Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – November 3rd, 2006

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

November 3, 2006

New China-Based Bird Flu Strain Found

The discovery of a new strain of bird flu in China was announced in this week’s issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. Identified by a University of Hong Kong research team as “H5N1 Fujian-like” to distinguish it from earlier Hong Kong and Vietnam strains, the strain has become the primary version of the bird flu in several Chinese provinces, portions of Hong Kong, Laos, Malaysia and Thailand.

According to officials with the World Health Organization (WHO) and the Food and Agriculture Organization, there is no evidence that this new strain can pass easily from person to person. However, WHO has announced that it is working with the Chinese Ministry of Health to develop a vaccine. Efforts to test migrating wildfowl in order to detect movement of the virus have also begun.

Global public health officials continue to express concerned that the H5N1 virus will eventually mutate into a form that can spread easily among people, elevating the possibility for a worldwide pandemic. To date, the H5N1 virus has claimed more than 150 human lives, with the greatest impact on people who live close to flocks of chickens or other poultry.

The Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences publication can be found at Articles are by subscription or purchase only.

Salmonella Outbreak May Be Linked to Produce

Federal public health officials have announced that at least 172 people across 18 U.S. states have been sickened by a recent salmonella outbreak possibly linked to produce. Eleven people have been hospitalized with illness due to the bacteria which can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, fever and headache.

According to investigators at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most of the cases are in adults, and more than 60 percent are women. These findings reflect much of the same types of evidence recently uncovered in the packaged spinach-based E. coli. outbreak across 26 states this fall.

The CDC has joined with the Food and Drug Administration to help track the outbreak, which was first detected in mid-October. Currently, officials at the CDC report only that the bacteria may have spread through some form of produce, perhaps tomatoes, but have not yet traced the outbreak to a particular product or supermarket.

Of the approximate 2,500 variations of salmonella, the type involved in this outbreak – Salmonella typhimurium – is one of the most common. Infections can be contracted from a variety of sources, including contact with contaminated water, soil, surface areas, animal feces, as well as raw meats, poultry and seafood.

Health officials estimate that more than 1.4 million cases of salmonellosis occur in the U.S. each year and that about 1.3 million of those cases come from food.

To help the public avoid foodborne infections, the Water Quality & Health Council provides a holiday food handling and storage tips sheet. Good information for every time of year, the tips sheet can be found at

New TB Strain Challenges Traditional Treatments

Health experts report that the emergence of extensive drug-resistant tuberculosis (XDR-TB) poses a serious threat to public health, especially in populations with high rates of HIV. The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Global Task Force on XDR-TB has outlined a series of measures that countries must put in place to effectively combat these highly lethal TB strains.

Tuberculosis, a respiratory illness spread by coughing and sneezing, is the world’s deadliest curable infectious disease. WHO estimates that 1.7 million people die from TB every year. Multidrug resistant TB describes strains that are resistant to at least the two main first-line TB drugs – isoniazid and rifampicin. XDR-TB describes strains that are also resistant to three or more of the six classes of second-line drugs.

Currently, XDR-TB is considered virtually incurable with existing antibiotics. In the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal, all but one of the 53 patients who were found to have the disease died within a month.

According to WHO officials, drugs currently prescribed to fight TB are more than 40 years old and require patients to undergo a six- to nine-month treatment regimen. The recent rise of this new deadly drug-resistant strain has highlighted the need for better tests, new drugs and a broadly effective vaccine against the disease.

For more information on XDR-TB, please go to:

Survey: Americans Will Cooperate to Combat Disease Spread

A recent survey conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) Project on the Public and Biological Security found that that a majority of Americans are willing to make significant short-term changes in their lives and cooperate with public health officials if faced with a serious outbreak of pandemic flu.

The HSPH survey was conducted to help public health officials in planning for a possible outbreak of pandemic flu.

The survey findings include the following:

* More than 75% of Americans say they would cooperate if public health officials recommended that they cease various public activities for one month, e.g., using public transportation, going to the mall, attending church.

* 94% reported they would stay at home and away from other people for seven to ten days if they had the flu.

* 85% responded that all members of their household would stay at home for seven to ten days if another member of their household was sick.

* 90% agreed that they and their families would obey public health officials’ recommendations to remain in their town or city.

The survey also found, however, that a significant number of Americans (24%) would have no one to care for them if they become ill. Additionally, one in four said they would face such serious financial problems if they were prevented from reporting to work for more than ten days. Raising the level of concern for how employers are preparing for a pandemic flu-based worker shortage, only 19% of those surveyed are aware of any plan at their workplace to respond to a serious outbreak of pandemic flu.

To view the survey results and PowerPoint slide presentation from the HSPH, please go to the following links:


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