Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – March 4th, 2005

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs
March 4, 2005

WHO, CDC Officials Warn of Potential Bird Flu Pandemic

Two of the world’s leading health organizations recently warned that the current H5N1 strain of the bird flu virus possesses the potential to mutate to a human form capable of triggering an outbreak. Officials with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) cite particular concern, as the next few weeks are the high season for avian influenza in Asia.

Although instances of human-to-human transmission are rare, the current H5N1 strain has health officials especially worried about human transmission because the virus has been found in animals, such as tigers and cats, which previously were not believed to be susceptible to the influenza. The bird flu is already responsible for the deaths of 45 people, including 32 Vietnamese, 12 Thais and one Cambodian. The fatalities resulted from contact with infected chickens or ducks.

In response, the U.S. government has ordered 2 million doses of vaccine to protect against the known strains of avian flu while other governments have been urged to draft emergency plans to combat the potential human contraction.

To read more from the CDC about the bird flu, please go to:
http://www.cdc.gov/flu/avian/

Unsafe Water and Sanitation Issues – a ‘Silent Humanitarian Crisis’

Poor water supply and sanitation have a more negative impact on people than war, terrorism and weapons of mass destruction combined, according to a paper authored by Jamie Bartram, Kristen Lewis, Roberto Lenton and Albert Wright recently published in The Lancet. Accoording to “Focusing on Improved Water and Sanitation for Health”, a estimated 3,900 children die everyday because of poor sanitation and a lack of safe drinking water, particularly in Africa and Asia.

Although substantial progress has been achieved to reach Millennium Development Goals (MDG), immediate efforts are necessary to confront the reality that sanitation coverage rates in the developing world barely keep pace with population rates, the paper’s authors wrote. In addition, improved irrigation can avoid standing or slow moving water and improve the disposal of household wastewater, which can also reduce mosquito breeding and malaria transmission.

The article is the fifth in a series of papers summarizing key conclusions of the Millennium Project. The MDG’s are to address extreme poverty with quantitative targets set for 2015.
EPA Sets Reference Dose for Perchlorate

The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set an official reference dose (RfD) for perchlorate that is consistent with the recommended reference dose that was included in the National Academy of Science’s (NAS) January 2005 report. The RfD, 0.0007 mg/kg/day, constitutes a scientific estimate of a daily exposure that is not anticipated to cause adverse health effects in humans.

The selected RfD contains a ten-fold uncertainty factor to protect the most sensitive populations, including pregnant women who may have hypothyroidism or iodide deficiency. Perchlorate exposure has the potential of blocking iodide uptake to the thyroid gland. In addition, the uncertainty factor also covers variability among other human life stages, gender and individual sensitivities, the EPA reported.

Perchlorate has been used in various items including missile and rocket propellants, munitions and fireworks. It has also been detected in drinking water in some parts of the country, as well as certain foods.

To read more about the EPA RfD, please go to:
http://www.epa.gov/safewater/ccl/perchlorate/perchlorate.html

No Epidemics Seen in Tsunami-Effected Region

Despite initial concern that tens of thousands of people were vulnerable to deadly diseases in the wake of last year’s tsunami only a few outbreaks have been reported, according to officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The Dec. 26 tsunami in the Indian Ocean was responsible for the deaths of an estimated 300,000 people in 11 countries.

International health workers believe that quick response efforts in ravaged areas thwarted the ability of diseases to spread. CDC officials had warned that the area was susceptible to cholera, malaria, dengue fever and measles because of poor water and sanitation services. Although only minor outbreaks have been reported, millions of survivors are without adequate housing or sanitation facilities leaving the region still vulnerable to outbreaks.

While tsunami-related relief efforts are seeing success in improving water, sanitation and disease detection services, CDC officials confirm that health care delivery services remain in disarray and say that rebuilding those services will require a long-term effort.

To read more about CDC tsunami-related efforts, please go to:
http://www.bt.cdc.gov/disasters/tsunamis/

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