Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – June 30th, 2006

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

June 30, 2006

Summer Weather Means West Nile Cases Are On the Rise

With the summer 2006 little more than a week old, sixteen states have already reported the presence of West Nile virus-infected mosquitoes, beginning what is expected to be several months reporting of the disease that has affected more than 1.2 million people in the U.S in the past seven years. According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), since 1999 West Nile has killed approximately 800 in the U.S. and caused severe neurological illness, meningitis or encephalitis in more than 8,300.

Although public health officials are unable to predict the location of West Nile infections each year, CDC surveillance research is providing information that may help reduce the risk of infection. Included are the findings that virus levels are more pronounced in mosquitoes in hot weather; bird populations act as “incubators” for the virus, carrying high levels of the virus and providing for the spread of the disease; and, contrary to reports, hurricanes do not contribute to the virus’ spread, but instead temporarily flush out mosquito nesting area.

Of additional concern to the spread of West Nile this year is the CDC report that New Orleans and the Gulf Coast are ripe for a surge in infections. This is due to the uncontrolled creation of mosquito breeding grounds made possible by the damage and remaining rubble left by Hurricane Katrina.

To provide protection from contracting West Nile virus-related disease, the CDC advises the following:

* Spray on insect repellent whenever you go outdoors. Options include DEET, picaridin and oil of lemon eucalyptus.
* Don’t let water collect in your yard or neighborhood. Clean out birdbaths weekly and clean clogged gutters.
* Make sure your window screens are in good repair and are without holes.
* Consult a doctor immediately for symptoms such as high fever, severe headache, severe muscle weakness or tremors.

More information on West Nile prevention can be found at:

CDC: Hygiene Lapses Cause Spread of Tattoo-Related Superbug

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) June 23 issue of Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report (MMWR), a drug-resistant superbug normally seen in prisoners, athletes and military recruits has been diagnosed in people who receive illegal tattoos. Based on CDC surveillance data over the past two years, skin infections caused by methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) have affected 44 tattoo customers in clusters in Ohio, Kentucky and Vermont.

According to CDC’s infectious disease investigators, the tattooists that were the source of the infection reported using unsterile equipment and lax hygiene regimes, including not properly disinfecting skin and neglecting to change gloves between clients.

MRSA is an antibiotic-resistant bacterium that fights off the body’s immune system and can lead to pneumonia, bloodstream infections, and a flesh-destroying condition called necrotizing fasciitis. The MRSA infections were identified by hospital infection-control practitioners and reported to local health departments during June 2004 through August of 2005.

The CDC reports that interventions were initiated by local health departments. These included educational forums targeting local infection-control professionals and medical providers.

To read the CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, please visit:

EPA Beach Monitoring Data Provides a Positive Report

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a new beach monitoring report on bacteria showing that U.S. beaches were safe for swimming 96 percent of the time in 2005. The beach-monitoring program is part of the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act. The EPA study reports that the number of beaches monitored has nearly quadrupled since data collection began six years ago.

The U.S. Congress passed the Beaches Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act of 2000, requiring that coastal and Great Lakes states and territories report to the EPA on beach monitoring and notification data for their coastal recreation waters. Additionally, the BEACH Act requires EPA to notify the public if levels of certain bacteria exceed standards. The notification can either be a beach advisory that warns people of possible risks of swimming or a closure of a beach to the public.

For the past six years, EPA has provided nearly $52 million in grants to 35 coastal and Great Lakes states and territories. The grants help improve water monitoring and fund public-information programs that alert beach-goers about the health of their beaches.

A summary of the 2005 BEACH findings are available at:

WHO Says Bird Flu Virus Mutated in Indonesian Case

The World Health Organization’s (WHO) investigation into a recent avian flu outbreak among the members of an Indonesian family in a remote village has shown that the H5N1 (bird flu) virus mutated, signaling the first evidence of person-to-person spread of the virus. The virus infected eight members of the same family last month, seven of whom died. According to WHO, the virus appeared to have mutated in a 10-year-old boy, who passed it along to his father.

Despite the report, bird flu experts claim verification of the mutation does not increase the possibility of a human pandemic.

To date, the HN51 virus remains difficult for humans to contract. Most cases of avian influenza infection have resulted from direct or close contact with infected poultry or surfaces contaminated with secretions and excretions from infected birds.

The Indonesian findings were announced at a health forum in Jakarta convened after the nation requested international help to deal with the increasing number of bird flu cases this year. According to public health surveillance data, Indonesia is one of the nations most affected by the virus with a total of 39 deaths. Vietnam leads the list with 42 avian flu-related deaths.

Bird flu has killed at least 130 people worldwide since emerging in late 2003.

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