H7N9 Spreads Beyond Mainland China

Taiwanese health officials said they are screening travelers arriving from China for signs of H7N9. This is the first case of H7N9 to be seen outside of mainland China. In response to the news, Malaysia has joined Vietnam and Indonesia in temporarily banning the import of poultry from China.

Keiji Fukuda, the WHO’s assistant director-general for health, security and the environment told reporters this week that H7N9 is “one of the most lethal influenza viruses that we have seen so far.” So far, there is no evidence of sustained human-to-human transmission. “We do want to note, however, that if limited person-to-person transmission is demonstrated in the future, this really will not be surprising,” Fukuda warned, adding that it was critical to remain vigilant, monitoring the virus’s spread and mutation.

The CDC has already begun bracing for H7N9 by preparing a vaccine, and U.S. doctors have been urged to promptly report suspected bird flu cases to their state health departments.


HMS Featured in Pittsburgh Tribune Review

“Last week, Health Monitoring Systems added the Pennsylvania Department of Health to its growing list of a dozen state-agency customers and about 550 hospitals nationwide using its health surveillance and monitoring service. The home-state deal adds to the company’s claim as the nation’s largest provider of community-health surveillance.” Read the full article in the Pittsburgh Tribune Review Online.

Public Health Agency Readiness for Meaningful Use Stage 2

According to the Recommendations, Public Health Agencies are strongly encouraged, though not required, to support Meaningful Use Stage 2 public health objectives. These objectives represent tremendous opportunities for Public Health Agencies to improve their surveillance capabilities. Meaningful Use Stage 2 regulations for public health objectives suggest that Public Health Officials need to perform four new administrative tasks to fully support Meaningful Use Stage 2. These processes are:

· Publicize what Meaningful Use Stage 2 objectives the Public Health Agency will support

· Register Providers that plan to submit public health data to a Public Health Agency for Meaningful Use Stage 2 objectives

· Test and validate ongoing data submissions from Providers

· Provide written communication(s) (which may be in electronic format) to Providers that have achieved ongoing submission of data relevant to public health for Meaningful Use Stage 2 objectives.

For more information, view the complete Meaningful Use Stage 2 Public Health Agency Readiness Guidance and Recommendations.


Metagenomics Identifies Organisms in Outbreaks of Serious Infectious Disease

Metagenomics reconstructs the genome sequence through the direct sequencing DNA extracted from microbiologically complex samples. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) highlights the potential of this approach to identify and characterize bacterial pathogens directly from clinical specimens. For the study, 45 samples were selected from fecal specimens obtained from patients in Germany with diarrhea during the 2011 STEC outbreak, and those samples were submitted to a 3-phase sequencing analysis.

The international team of researchers was coordinated by Mark Pallen, Professor of Microbial Genomics at Warwick Medical School, who summarized what this means for the identification of future outbreaks, “There are numerous drawbacks to the use of nineteenth-century approaches such as microscopy and culture when it comes to classification. Our results illustrate the potential of metagenomics as an open-ended, culture-independent approach for the identification and characterization of bacterial pathogens during an outbreak.

“There are challenges, of course, including speeding up and simplifying workflows, reducing costs and improving diagnostic sensitivity. However, given the dizzying pace of progress in high-throughput sequencing, these are not likely to remain problems for very long.”


Manufacturing Airborne Bird Flu

When the two teams announced in 2011 that they had discovered how to make a mutated strain of H5N1 that could spread between people, the U.S. National Science Advisory Board for Biosecurity (NSABB) was so alarmed that it took an unprecedented step and attempted to censor publication of the studies. In January 2012, amidst widespread fears that the details of the work could fall into the wrong hands and be used for bioterrorism, both teams of researchers voluntarily agreed to temporarily suspend their studies.

Now, according to a recent Reuters article, many scientists are calling for an end to the moratorium on bird flu transmissibility research in light of the emergence of H7N9. Ab Osterhaus, a world leading flu researcher who is head of viroscience at the Erasmus Medical Center in the Netherlands, says “This virus might be on the brink of gaining function of transmissibility (in humans). I think it’s crucial to know the rules of the game.”

With fourteen cases of the new H7N9 bird flu confirmed in China since Sunday, including six deaths, Vietnam has banned the import of Chinese poultry, and Beijing, Japan, and Hong Kong have all begun mobilizing resources against the threat.