WHO to assemble Emergency Committee on Zika virus

The World Health Organization have announced that an International Health Regulations Emergency Committee will be assembled next week to discuss Zika virus and its potential relationship with birth defects and neurological disorders.
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97 Sick, 8 Dead in NYC Legionnaires' Outbreak: Officials

An additional death is being linked to the Legionnaire's disease outbreak in New York City that has sickened 97 others in the last three weeks, health officials said Wednesday.

That brings the death toll to 8 in the outbreak, clustered in the Bronx. Additionally, 97 cases of the disease, a severe, often lethal, form of pneumonia spread through the air, have been reported in the south Bronx since July 10, city officials said in a statement Wednesday. That marks 11 new cases since the last update from the city Tuesday, and 51 new cases since last Wednesday, when health officials first discussed the outbreak.

The Department of Health and Mental Health said those who died were older adults and had additional underlying medical problems.

Legionnaires' disease is caused by exposure to the bacteria Legionella; in most cases, people are exposed to the bacteria by inhaling contaminated aerosols from cooling towers, hot tubs, showers and faucets or drinking water.

Twenty-two buildings have been visited as "disease detectives" hunt for the source of the outbreak, the city said last Friday. Seventeen of those buildings have cooling towers -- five of those tested positive for Legionella, including one at Lincoln Hospital; one at Concourse Plaza; one at a shopping plaza; one at a Verizon office building and one at the Opera House Hotel. All have been decontaminated.

Bassett reiterated that the contaminated cooling towers have had no effect on the water in the Bronx, and that tap water remains entirely safe to drink.

The cases have been reported primarily in High Bridge, Morrisania, Hunts Point and Mott Haven since July 10, the Health Department said.

Mayor de Blasio said Tuesday officials believed they had identified the only sites that are causing the outbreak, and no additional cooling towers are believed to be contaminated. All of those sites must submit long-term plans as to how they will maintain cooling towers to protect against any future growth of legionella, he said. Those plans are due Friday.

Health Commissioner Mary Bassett said authorities are confident one of the five cooling towers that tested positive for Legionella is the primary source of the outbreak, though it will likely take weeks to confirm. Now that the contaminated sources have been remediated, she said, authorities expected to see the number of cases continue to go down.

"This is the largest outbreak of Legionnaires' disease that we are aware of in New York City," Bassett said Tuesday. "Although we will continue to see cases, we expect the case rate to decline and the number of cases to fall over the coming weeks."

On Tuesday, de Blasio said the fact that only five new cases were added to the outbreak total since Monday "suggests a reduction in the rate of increase and that is good news." But with 11 new cases announced on Wednesday, along with the death, concerns have been renewed.

"This is really not good," said South Bronx resident Chenelle Stuckey. "People are dying."

Dr. Robert Glatter of Lenox Hill Hospital said the main issue is the incubation period, which is very long -- up to about two weeks.

"So we're going to continue to see more cases," he told NBC 4 New York.

Legionnaires' disease usually sets in two to 10 days after exposure to the bacteria and has symptoms similar to pneumonia, including shortness of breath, high fever, chills and chest pains. People with Legionnaires' also experience appetite loss, confusion, fatigue and muscle aches.

City officials plan to host a town hall next Tuesday, Aug. 11 for area residents with council member Vanessa Gibson to answer questions and concerns about the outbreak.

Both de Blasio and Bassett stressed last week there was no concern for alarm.

"People have to understand that this is a disease that can be treated -- and can be treated well if caught early," de Blasio said last Thursday. "The exception can be with folks who are already unfortunately suffering from health challenges, particularly immune system challenges. But for the vast majority of New Yorkers, if they were even exposed, this can be addressed very well and very quickly so long as they seek medical treatment."

Glatter emphasized the point.

"Most people who get this, who are otherwise healthy, they get a mild flu, get better, and they don't need antibiotics," he said Wednesday.

It cannot be spread person-to-person and those at highest risk for contracting the illness include the elderly, cigarette smokers, people with chronic lung or immune system disease and those receiving immunosuppressive drugs. Most cases can be treated successfully with antibiotics.

The Health Department urges anyone with symptoms to seek immediate medical attention.

An outbreak last hit the Bronx in December. Between then and January, 12 people in Co-op City contracted the potentially deadly disease. Officials said a contaminated cooling tower was likely linked to at least 75 percent of those cases. No one died in that outbreak.

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Nearly 8 Million Children in Sudan to be Immunized Against Measles

Following one of the worst measles outbreaks in Sudan´s recent history, the Ministry of Health with support from UNICEF, the Measles and Rubella Initiative (M&RI) and national partners, is launching a massive campaign to immunize 7.9 million children aged six months to 15 years against this life-threatening disease.

Since the start of the outbreak at the end of 2014, there have been 1,730 confirmed cases, 3,175 suspected cases and 22 fatalities.

West Darfur remains the worst affected state, with 441 confirmed cases and five deaths. Kassala has had 365 confirmed cases and five deaths, while in Red Sea state there have been 263 cases and four deaths.

The campaign, which launches today will initially target 28 affected localities in six of the highest risk states, before expanding to other areas identified as being at risk of an outbreak. In total it will target 96 localities in 16 affected and "at risk" states.

The immunization campaign will be a complex operation, however, as ongoing conflict in some areas of Sudan could restrict humanitarian access.

There are children in conflict zones in the Kordofans, Blue Nile and Darfur who have not received routine immunization since 2011. UNICEF has called on all parties to the fighting to facilitate humanitarian access so that these children can be reached.

Children are most at risk of the disease - children who are malnourished are even more vulnerable. In Sudan, some 36 per cent of children are stunted and the country has one of the highest levels of malnutrition in Africa.

Of the total number of reported measles cases in Sudan, 69 per cent are below 15 years of age, including 52 per cent under the age of five. For malnourished children measles can cause serious complications, including blindness, ear infections, pneumonia and severe diarrhoea. The measles virus is spread by respiratory transmission and is highly contagious. Up to 90 per cent of people without immunity who are sharing a house with an infected person will catch it.

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Ebola outbreak: WHO launches $100M plan as death toll tops 700

Sierra Leone declares public health emergency as other West African nations set new airport controls

the deadliest Ebola outbreak in history has killed more than 700 people in West Africa. (Samaritan's Purse/Associated Press)

 

The World Health Organization is launching a $100-million response plan to combat an "unprecedented" outbreak of Ebola in West Africa that has killed 729 people out of 1,323 infected since February, the agency said on Thursday.

 

WHO Director General Margaret Chan will meet in Conakry, Guinea, on Friday with the presidents of affected West African nations, the United Nations health agency said in a statement.

 

"The scale of the Ebola outbreak, and the persistent threat it poses, requires WHO and Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone to take the response to a new level and this will require increased resources, in-country medical expertise, regional preparedness and co-ordination," said Chan.

 

The plan identifies the need for "several hundred more personnel" to be deployed in affected countries to ease the strain on overstretched treatment facilities, the WHO said. Clinical doctors and nurses, epidemiologists, and logisticians are urgently needed, it said in an appeal to donor countries

 

"The plan sets out new needs to respond to the outbreak across the countries and bring up the level of preparedness in neighbouring countries," WHO spokesman Paul Garwood said. "They need better information and infection-control measures."

 

The plan aims to stop transmission of the virus by strengthening disease surveillance, particularly in border areas, protecting health workers from infection and doing a better job of explaining the disease to communities.

 

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a travel advisory against non-essential travel to Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone.

 

Dr. Thomas Frieden, director of the CDC, said his agency is stepping up its response to the outbreak and will send an additional 50 health experts to assist with efforts to control the outbreak.

 

Canada's Public Health Agency is not taking that step just yet, instead recommending travellers practise special precautions, such as getting extra vaccinations. According to its online travel notice, the risk of infection is low for most travellers.

 

Meanwhile, the health conditions of a U.S. physician and a missionary who contracted Ebola while helping fight an outbreak of the disease that has claimed more than 700 lives in West Africa have worsened, two relief organizations said on Thursday.

 

Dr. Kent Brantly and missionary Nancy Writebol are in "stable but grave condition" in Liberia as they battle the deadly virus, according to North Carolina-based Christian relief groups Samaritan's Purse and SIM. Brantly and Writebol were serving in Monrovia, Liberia, as part of a joint team from the two relief organizations.
Public health emergency in Sierra Leone

 

In Sierra Leone, President Ernest Bai Koroma declared a public health emergency. He vowed to quarantine sick patients at home and have authorities conduct house-to-house searches for others who may have been exposed as the country struggles with families resisting treatment at isolation centres. Some have kept loved ones at home given the high death rates at clinics where Ebola patients are quarantined.

 

His announcement late Wednesday came as neighbouring Liberia also increased efforts to slow the virulent disease's spread, shutting down schools and ordering most public servants to stay home from work.

 

"It could be helpful for the government to have powers to isolate and quarantine people and it's certainly better than what's been done so far," said Dr. Heinz Feldmann, chief of virology at U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. "Whether it works, we will have to wait and see."

 

Ebola now has been blamed for 729 deaths in four West African countries this year, and has shown no signs of slowing down, particularly in Liberia and Sierra Leone. It has also reached Nigeria's biggest city Lagos, where authorities said on Friday a man had died of the virus.

 

On Thursday, the WHO announced 57 new deaths — 27 in Liberia, 20 in Guinea, nine in Sierra Leone and one in Nigeria.

 

Among the dead was the chief doctor treating Ebola in Sierra Leone, who was to be buried Thursday.

 

The government said Dr. Sheik Umar Khan's death was "an irreparable loss of this son of the soil." The 39-year-old was a leading doctor on hemorrhagic fevers in a nation with very few medical resources.

 

In a measure of rising international concern, Britain on Wednesday held a government meeting on Ebola, which it said was a threat it needed to respond to.

 

But international airlines association IATA said the WHO was not recommending any travel restrictions or border closures owing to the outbreak, and there would be a low risk to other passengers if an Ebola patient flew.

 

The outbreak of the hemorrhagic fever, for which there is no known cure, began in the forests of remote eastern Guinea in February, but Sierra Leone now has the highest number of cases.

 

Sierra Leone's Koroma said he would meet with the leaders of Liberia and Guinea in Conakry on Friday to discuss the epidemic and that he was cancelling a visit to Washington for a U.S.-Africa summit next week.
New airport controls

 

Sierra Leone, a former British colony, said passengers arriving and departing Lungi International Airport would be subject to new protocols, including body temperature scans.

 

Two regional airlines, Nigeria's Arik and Togo's Asky, have cancelled all flights to Freetown and Monrovia after a U.S. citizen died in Nigeria after contracting the disease in Liberia.

 

Nigeria's civil aviation authority (NCAA) said on Thursday it had started temperature screening passengers arriving from places at risk from Ebola and had suspended pan-African airline Asky for bringing the first case to Lagos.

 

Patrick Sawyer, the first recorded case of Ebola in Nigeria, took an Asky flight that stopped in Ghana and Togo, raising questions over how a person whose sister had died of the disease three weeks before was able to board an international flight.

 

Ghana also said it was immediately introducing body temperature screening of all travellers from West African countries at Accra airport and other major entry points, with isolation centres being set up in three towns.

 

Kyei Faried, deputy director in charge of disease control, told a news conference that authorities had a list of 11 passengers who disembarked from Sawyer's flight and were monitoring them. The government is considering whether to ban flights from affected countries.

 

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