Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – September 30th, 2005

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

September 30, 2005

Indonesia Braces for Avian Flu Spread

Indonesia’s health minister issued a national warning last week advising that the Southeast Asian nation could face a bird flu epidemic if the number of suspected cases of the virus continues to increase. Although bird flu showed up in Indonesian poultry more than two years ago and spread across the majority of the country’s provinces, Indonesian Health Ministry officials minimized the threat, claiming the virus did not infect humans as in other Southeast Asia countries.

Under the new warning, disease prevention efforts will include government-authorized mandatory hospitalization of anyone who has suspicious symptoms.

Earlier this month, two young girls with symptoms consistent with bird flu died. Four previous deaths were reported from avian influenza. In addition, at least 10 other people have been admitted to hospitals with high fevers and breathing difficulties symptomatic of bird flu.

Since early last year, bird flu has killed at least 63 people in Vietnam, Thailand, Cambodia and Indonesia, in addition to infecting an increasing number of bird species in 12 countries across Asia. According to United Nations health experts, the virus could potentially mutate or obtain new genetic material. This would enable the virus to spread more easily among humans and potentially trigger a global pandemic, infecting and/or killing tens of millions of people, the agency warned.

To read more about bird flu from the World Health Organization, please go to:
S.A. Typhoid Outbreak Focuses on Low Chlorine Levels, Mismanagement

According to government biologists, a recent typhoid outbreak in Delmas, Mpumalanga, South Africa was caused by human waste in one of the water system’s boreholes. Salmonella typhi, the bacteria that causes typhoid, was identified as the contaminant in the borehole. So far, four people have died from typhoid in the Delmas area since the outbreak on August 22. More than 3,300 have fallen ill.

According to local officials, low levels of chlorine were detected in some areas of the water system hastening immediate efforts to boost chlorination of the water and return the system to proper disinfection standards. Officials point to mismanagement of the water system as the source of improper chlorine levels.

The government has said that there are no plans to close any of the boreholes and that the water is now safe to drink based on the latest test results, which registered no E coli or other coliforms. In addition, the Mpumalanga department of agriculture is testing samples of milk and meat products. In the next four weeks, the Department of Water Affairs and Forestry will inspect all municipalities across the country where there may be concerns relating to the treatment of sewage and water.

To read more about Salmonella typhi, please go to:
Survey Shows Hand-Washing Claims Not Always Accurate

According to a survey released by the American Society for Microbiology (ASM) and the Soap and Detergent Association (SDA) during the recent National Clean Hands Week (September 18-24), ninety-one percent of American adults say they always wash their hands after using public restrooms. However, based on an observational portion of study, just 83 percent actually did so.

Officials throughout the public health community point to simple hand-washing as the single most important public health contribution individuals can make in stopping the spread of illness and protecting their own personal health.

Among the findings of the study, ninety percent of the women observed washed their hands, compared with just 75 percent of men. By contrast, an August 2005 Harris Interactive telephone survey of 1,013 American adults, 97 percent of women and 96 percent of men say they always or usually wash their hands after using a public restroom.

The observational study, also conducted by Harris Interactive, monitored 6,336 individuals washing, or not washing, their hands at six public attractions in four major cities: Atlanta (Turner Field), Chicago (Museum of Science and Industry, Shedd Aquarium), New York City (Grand Central Station, Penn Station), and San Francisco (Ferry Terminal Farmers Market). Turner Field patrons received the lowest grade with only 74 percent of the attending baseball fans washing up after visiting the restroom facilities.

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