Health Highlights: Feb. 1, 2004
1st Human Transmission of Bird Flu Suspected USDA Warns on Raw Meat Consumption China Has 4th SARS Case Will FluMist Survive Another Flu Season?
Here are some of the latest health and medical news developments, compiled by editors of HealthDay:
1st Human Transmission of Bird Flu Suspected
Two Vietnamese sisters who died of bird flu may have caught the disease from their brother, the World Health Organization said Sunday. If confirmed, it would be the first known case of human-to-human transmission of the virus during the current outbreak sweeping Asia.
The source of the two sisters' infection has not yet been conclusively identified, Bob Dietz, a WHO spokesman in Hanoi, told the Associated Press. "However, WHO considers that limited human-to-human transmission from the brother to his sisters is one possible explanation," he added.
Laboratory tests in Hong Kong verified that the sisters, ages 23 and 30, had been infected by the H5N1 bird flu virus, he said. The sisters were among eight Vietnamese whose deaths were confirmed to be from the bird flu that has infected poultry, mostly chickens, in at least 10 countries. Thailand has confirmed two human deaths from the disease.
Most cases have been linked to contact with sick birds, and until now no evidence of human-to-human transmission has been found.
The two sisters became sick after attending their brother's wedding reception. Their 31-year-old brother died Jan. 14 but was cremated so no samples were available to determine whether he also had bird flu, the news service reports.
Meanwhile, the Washington Post reports that bird flu appears to be spreading faster than expected across China. Authorities reported five more suspected outbreaks on Sunday, including one in far western Xinjiang province, hundreds of miles from the duck farm in the southeast where the virus first appeared in the country a week ago.
The announcement brings to 14 the total number of places in China with confirmed or suspected outbreaks of the disease.
USDA Warns on Raw Meat Consumption
An outbreak of salmonella bacteria infection in the Northeast has prompted the U.S. Department of Agriculture to warn people about consuming raw meat.
At least 37 people from six states have been infected since last fall, and while the source of the infection has not been located, a spokesman for the USDA's Food Safety Inspection Service said the agency believes it is likely that the victims ate ground beef, some of it raw. "You're asking for trouble if you're eating raw ground beef," said spokesman Matt Baun told the Boston Globe.
Jennifer Marcone, a spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said the first case occurred early last October with the most recent case reported at the end of December. The CDC notified the USDA this week that three residents of Connecticut, 11 people from Massachusetts, four from New York, three from Vermont, 12 from Maine, and four from New Hampshire had contracted the disease, Marcone said.
Salmonella, which sickens a million people annually, can cause vomiting, diarrhea, and fever in healthy adults; and it can be fatal for seniors or people with weak immune systems. Symptoms usually occur within eight to 72 hours of eating infected meat. About 600 people die from salmonella annually, according to the CDC.
China Has 4th SARS Case
Chinese health officials have announced one more confirmed case of SARS, the country's fourth this season.
The Health Ministry on Saturday said the new SARS patient had already been discharged from a hospital. The official Xinhua News Agency identified the man as a 40-year-old doctor from the southern city of Guangzhou in Guangdong province, who had fallen ill Jan. 7, was hospitalized Jan. 13 and discharged "several days later."
Health officials have been monitoring 48 people who had contact with him, but none has showed any symptoms, the news agency said.
The disclosure prompted the World Health Organization to demand an investigation.
"The case raises a number of concerns about the manner in which the man's infection was detected, treated and reported," the WHO said, adding that it hadn't been told about the case of severe acute respiratory syndrome until Friday.
This season's three other patients in China -- a businessman, a waitress and a television producer -- have been released from the hospital in recent weeks. All were from Guangzhou.
The first known case of severe acute respiratory syndrome emerged in Guangdong in November 2002. A subsequent worldwide outbreak killed 774 people last year, including 349 in mainland China, and sickened more than 8,000 before subsiding last July.
Will FluMist Survive Another Flu Season?
The makers of FluMist, the first nasal vaccine against influenza, are deciding whether to pull it off the market because sales in its debut season were dreadful.
The Sun of Baltimore reports that the co-marketers of FluMist, MedImmune Inc. and Wyeth Pharmaceuticals, will decide by March whether to proceed with sales next year.
"Everything is on the table, from us continuing to go forward together ... to perhaps both of us declaring defeat and getting out," MedImmune chief executive officer David Mott is quoted as saying.
The companies had high hopes for FluMist, launching a $25 million campaign in early fall. They gambled that patients would be willing to pay more for the drug -- it costs $46 a dose wholesale, three times as much as a standard shot -- if they could avoid an injection.
However, sales were far below expectations even though the flu season started early and there was a shortage of flu shots. The companies decided to donate doses to public health agencies.