Entries in Outbreak (30)


Hepatitis A Outbreak Linked to Turkish Pomegranate Seeds

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The FDA announced Saturday it will block shipments of pomegranate seeds from a company in Turkey after U.S. health officials determined that the seeds are to blame for a multi-state outbreak of Hepatitis A that has sickened more than 120 people.

The outbreak began several months ago, and as of this week the CDC reports 127 people were exposed and sickened by in 10 states across the U.S. Health officials were able to trace the outbreak back to the seeds that were used in Townsend Farms Organic Antioxidant Blend, a frozen food blend sold at Costco and Harris Teeter.

“Hepatitis A is a foodborne illness,” explained ABC News' Chief Health and Medical Editor Dr Richard Besser. “It's spread from either contaminated food or contaminated waters, so the presumption is that [when] this was being harvested in Turkey, someone had hepatitis A and it was able to get onto the seeds. From there it survives very well.”

Pomegranate seeds were a particularly effective vehicle for the spread of disease, as the seeds are eaten raw. “Whenever you're eating a raw product, you're at greater risk of a food-borne illness because heat is one of the best ways of killing so many different germs,” Besser said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


MERS Coronavirus Kills Three More in Saudi Arabia

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(RIYADH, Saudi Arabia) -- Saudi health officials say three more people have died from the MERS coronavirus, bringing the death toll in Saudi Arabia to 24. The country has seen the highest number of MERS cases since the outbreak started last year, with 38 known infections.

Infections have also emerged in Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Germany, the United Kingdom, France and Italy. All of the cases have ties to the Middle East, according to the World Health Organization.

Until recently, MERS-CoV was known widely as the “SARS-like virus” because of its semblance to the deadly SARS virus, which a decade ago sickened more than 8,000 people and killed 774. But experts caution that while both viruses can cause pneumonia and organ failure, MERS-CoV appears to spread less readily than SARS so far.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


FDA Investigating Hepatitis A Outbreak in Five States

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The U.S Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are investigating an outbreak of Hepatitis A in five states that may be linked to a frozen food blend.

According to a press release from the FDA, at least 30 people have been infected with Hepatitis A in Colorado, New Mexico, Nevada, Arizona and California. Thus far, 11 of 17 patients interviewed by the CDC said they ate Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend before they got sick.

The FDA has already begun to inspect Townsend Farms' processing facilities in Fairview, Ore. Additionally, the FDA is working on a method to test berries for the Hepatitis A virus and will be testing samples related to the outbreak, including the frozen blend.

Hepatitis is a contagious liver disease that can range from mild to severe. According to the FDA, the infection is most commonly spread through ingestion of fecal matter, even in microscopic amounts. Symptoms of Hepatitis A include fatigue, abdominal pain, jaundice, abnormal liver tests, dark urine and pale stool.

The CDC is recommending that consumer do not eat Townsend Farms Organic Anti-Oxidant Blend and that any remaining product should be thrown away, even if the product has already been partially eaten and no one has gotten sick. Retailers and food service operators are also being advised not to sell the anti-oxidant blend pending the end of the investigation.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


SARS-Like Virus Continues to Spread Through Middle East

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(RIYADH, Saudi Arabia) -- A new virus spreading through the Middle East has claimed three more lives, according to Saudi health officials, bringing the death toll to 30.

At least 50 people have been sickened by the virus, newly-dubbed MERS-CoV for “Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus.” The majority of cases have clustered in Saudi Arabia. But infections have also emerged in Jordan, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, Tunisia, Germany, the United Kingdom and France.

All of the cases have ties to the Middle East, according to the World Health Organization.

A Frenchman, who became ill after traveling to Dubai, died earlier this week roughly one month after being hospitalized with respiratory symptoms. His roommate at the hospital also contracted the virus, reaffirming suspicions that MERS-CoV can be passed from person-to-person.

The virus has also spread through a health care facility Al-Ahsa, Saudi Arabia, where at least 22 patients have been sickened and 10 have died. In light of such cases, doctors on Wednesday recommended quarantining patients for at least 12 days.

Until recently, MERS-CoV was known widely as the “SARS-like virus” because of its semblance to the deadly SARS virus, which a decade ago sickened more than 8,000 people and killed 774. But experts caution that while both viruses can cause pneumonia and organ failure, MERS-CoV appears to spread less readily than SARS so far.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Seven People Suffer Complications After Using Common Pain-Reliever

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEWBERN, Tenn.) -- Seven people in Midwest and south are suffering complications after being injected with medicine routinely used to treat back pain and joint swelling, and health officials are on the case because this particular medication already has a controversial history.

The Food and Drug Administration is focusing their investigation on the Main Street Family Pharmacy, a small pharmacy in Newbern, Tenn.

Health officials say seven people developed skin abscesses after being treated with an injectable steroid made at the pharmacy that is possibly contaminated.

While there is no conclusive evidence that the drugs are contaminated, health officials recommend that doctors immediately stop using any drugs sold by the pharmacy, and are conducting a thorough investigation. It's too soon to tell how many people were injected with the drug. It's already been shipped to 13 states, including California and both Carolinas.

“They shouldn't be in business if they’re doin’ that,” said Bob Newhouse, a Newbern resident. “When you talking about somebody's health, that's serious.”

The steroid in question, methylprednisolone acetate, is the same drug at the center of last year's deadly outbreak of functional meningitis which killed 55 people and sickened more than 700. Those cases were traced back to a single pharmacy in Massachusetts.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Alabama Mystery Illness Could Be Coincidence

Pixland/Thinkstock(MONTGOMERY, Ala.) -- A mystery illness has sickened seven people in southeastern Alabama, killing two of them, according to the state Health Department, but it's not clear whether the patients -- or their symptoms -- are connected.

"At this time, there is no epidemiological link between these patients," an Alabama health department document states in bold type.

The patients' ages range from their mid-20s to their late 80s, Dr. Mary McIntyre, who is leading the investigation, told in an email. Location aside, McIntyre said the patients had no commonalities other than that the "majority" of them had "co-morbidities like smoking, COPD, morbid obesity."

"Temporal clustering can make something look like an outbreak," said Dr. Richard Besser, chief health and medical editor for ABC News. "Good science will tell you whether it is."

The illnesses started with common flu-like symptoms -- shortness of breath, a cough and a fever. But both patients who died had come down with pneumonia, McIntyre said.

Besser said most pneumonia patients are never tested to determine what caused their infection, but the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention could offer "state of the art" diagnostic testing to explain the Alabama cases. Health officials will also question the patients' families and friends to determine common exposures and whether the patients ever had contact with one another.

The first three cases were reported to the health department on May 16 because the patients were on ventilators but had no known cause for their illnesses, according to a health department document. The most recent case was reported May 19.

One of the patients tested positive for H1N1, the "swine flu" that began in spring 2009 and peaked the following October, according to a health department document. Another patient tested for a strain of influenza called AH3.

It's not yet clear whether either flu played a role in this cluster of illnesses, the document states. The five patients who are still living seem to be getting better, McIntyre said. One of them was released Tuesday.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Tuberculosis Outbreak Hits LA Homeless

Comstock/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- Tuberculosis appears to be on the rise among Los Angeles County’s vulnerable homeless population, prompting the county health department to seek federal help.

In the last five years, the county health department reported 78 people with the bacterial disease in or around the skid row neighborhood. Sixty of them were known to be homeless.

“It’s a well-defined population and a relatively small geographic area with a difficult population to work with, so we’re putting a concentrated effort into making sure these individuals who are already vulnerable are getting attention,” Dr. Jonathan Fielding, who directs the LA County Department of Public Health, told ABC News.

Fielding’s department has called upon the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and people who work in the homeless shelters to help identify and test people with tuberculosis symptoms, which include a cough that lasts more than three weeks, coughing up blood, weight loss, night sweats, fatigue and fever.

This particular strain of the disease is sensitive to drugs, so treatment is effective if the patient is able to get help and follow up with it, Fielding said. However, eight people who got the disease also had HIV, rendering their immune systems less able to fight it off. Of those, six died.

“It’s a very bad combination, especially if it’s not being adequately treated,” Fielding said.

Fielding said 4,650 people frequent the local homeless shelters from time to time and could, therefore, have been exposed to tuberculosis. The disease is airborne, but not as contagious as the cold or flu. It spreads by “fairly close contact” with infected individuals over an “extended period of time,” he said.

“You don’t get tuberculosis from being next to someone or walking down the street,” Fielding said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


City Under Flu Crisis: 48 Hours in Boston's Massive Flu Outbreak

Jeffrey Hamilton/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- Little Cassie Colice fought off another coughing fit as she sat in the emergency room at Boston Children's Hospital with her mother. Despite getting a flu shot this season, doctors believed the toddler was suffering from the flu.

"She's gone from having what you think for a toddler is a common cold to having difficulty breathing, coughing up a lot of mucus, terribly lethargic, no appetite," said Cassie's mother, Meghan Moriarty. "It just makes me feel bad that she can't tell me."

ABC's Nightline spent the last 48 hours documenting a city in crisis from a raging flu epidemic, from patients who already have it to those who are taking measures to avoid it and the doctors who are battling the outbreak.

Moriarty was very concerned because Cassie, who isn't even 2 years old yet, was born prematurely, putting her in the highest risk category for serious complications from the flu. So doctors didn't waste time testing Cassie for flu. They admitted her immediately.

"She has a fever and cough, she's dehydrated, the degree of lethargy, the repertory rate makes me worry that she has a serious infection," said Dr. Anne Stack.

Once admitted, Cassie and her mother realized they had lots of company.

"We are at full capacity," Stack said. "The hospital is essentially completely full."

And it was not just Children's Hospital -- all of Boston's world-famous hospitals are operating on overdrive. There have been more than 750 confirmed flu cases so far this season in Boston, more than 10 times the 70 cases from this time last year.

"I have been here for 19 years," said Dr. Ron Walls of Brigham and Women's Hospital. "I don't remember seeing anything like this."

At Massachusetts General Hospital, patient Shane Wells feared his laundry list of flu-like symptoms was making him another one of Boston's latest statistics. Despite getting the flu shot, the 41-year-old was suffering from chills, sweats and incessant cough.

"The aches and pains, the hot, the cold," he said. "[I'm] trying to get back to work because if you don't work you can't pay the bills."

Many people assume they have the flu without getting tested. But when Wells' lab tests came back, the results were positive for flu. There was little doctors could do for him. He had passed the 48-hour window when prescription medication could effectively treat the virus.

"You ought to be wearing a mask when you are in public," Dr. Stuart Harris told Wells. "Try to keep away from people, wash your hands all the time."

Back at Children's Hospital, Cassie's chest X-ray showed her lungs were full of mucus. She was also dehydrated and had low oxygen levels in her blood, so doctors admitted her to stay at the hospital overnight.

Just down the hall from Cassie was 4-month-old Cayson Page, who was born with congenital heart disease. For children like Cayson, the flu can be a matter of life or death.

"Our main concern is that this child doesn't have a lot of reserve," Dr. Stack said. "So even a little bit of illness can tip someone like this over."

Cayson was discharged from the hospital, but after repeatedly vomiting, his parents, James Page and Elizabeth Graul, brought him back to the ER. It was an exhausting and scary process, and the Pages feared their son would become another Boston statistic.

"The main thing that worries me is just how many deaths have happened from [the flu]," Graul said. "With his heart disease, he gets really sick just off a simple cold and then I don't even want to know what the flu would do to him."

At Brigham and Women's Hospital, a code amber alert sounded.

"It is basically a disaster notification that we use when we have a large number of things to deal with," Dr. Walls said. "It freezes the staff so basically no one is going to be allowed to go home."

In one afternoon, Walls' section of the ER saw eight patients, more than four times what they typically see this time of year.

"The big difference I think that I've seen this year is that there is so many more people with it," Walls said. "So we talk about the virulence of the flu, like how fast can it get from me to you and from you to someone else. This flu seems to have spread from really rapidly through large, large numbers of people."

One of his biggest concerns was elderly patients, who are also at high risk of complications from the flu. Eighteen people over age 65 have already died from the flu in Massachusetts.

Many doctors still agree that the best weapon of defense against the flu is to get a flu shot. An East Boston neighborhood health center said they have given 20,000 flu shots this season and more than 700 alone on Saturday.

"We don't usually have to do big clinics like this but when there's a need, particularly like this when the flu is so severe, we really want to vaccinate people, we're happy to do this," said Dr. Catherine Silva, a local primary care physician.

Concerned parent Tequila Cunningham, who was waiting for her flu shot at the health center, said she wasn't taking any chances.

"There has been four episodes of kids getting sick in their school," she said. "I feel like the flu shot and some vitamin C and they're going to be great."

On Sunday, Cassie was still at Children's Hospital and had been moved into intensive care. She had to have mucus drained from her lungs but was slowly starting to improve.

"I think we might be able to get her home soon," Meghan Moriarty said.

But the ordeal has taken its toll and Cassie's mother was exhausted.

"I actually fainted last night," she said. "I forgot to feed myself."

But after 24 hours, Mass General patient Shane Wells, who felt awful after being discharged, said he was starting to feel a lot better.

"I pretty much feel 80 percent," he said. "I'll make it back to work tomorrow, I'm feeling good now. I'll get a good night's sleep, keep taking my medicine and I think I'll be all right."

Boston-area hospitals reported a decline in flu admissions over the weekend, suggesting things are looking up in a city that is sick of being sick.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Flu Outbreak: Fighting the Virus with Social Media

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The flu season has arrived — and it’s weeks early.

In one week, 16 states and New York City reported high levels of the flu. By the following week, that number was up to 29.

Each day for the past week, more than 500 New Yorkers have descended on emergency rooms with flu symptoms, according to a city website.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in high-flu states 70 percent to 80 percent of the coughs you hear around you right now stem from the flu.

Each cough, sneeze or even conversation puts the virus into the air — and potentially into your lungs.

The virus goes everywhere — onto railings and the salt shakers in the diner; on the keys of the ATM; and on every door anyone touches.

The flu virus can survive two to eight hours on hard surfaces such as metal and plastic — touch it and you can spread it to your nose and mouth from your hand.

The average person touches his or her face about 18 times an hour — giving the virus a path to the lungs.

In one meeting, ABC News recorded the number of times people unconsciously touched their faces in more than 25 minutes. The highest number of times: 44.

There are now new tools to track the flu.

The CDC is watching social media flu sites such as Google Flu Tracker, and a Facebook app tries to identify the “friend” that gave you the flu from its searches and comments. has 20,000 volunteers who are tracking their symptoms, narrowing the spread of flu down to your ZIP code.

An office hot spot?  The elevator. One sneeze can spray the flu — in droplets — up to 20 feet, coating the doors and buttons.  And what do you touch in an elevator?  The buttons.

The CDC suggests washing your hands and getting a flu shot — still available and effective within two weeks.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Meningitis Outbreak: 404 Cases, 29 Deaths

Jared Wickerham/Getty Images(ATLANTA) -- Eighteen more people have been diagnosed with fungal meningitis in an outbreak linked to tainted steroid injections, health officials reported Friday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention increased the tally of cases to 404 in 19 states: 395 cases of fungal meningitis and nine joint infections. At least 29 people have died.

For a map of cases by state, click here.

The outbreak has been linked to contaminated vials of methylprednisolone acetate, an injectable steroid used to treat back and joint pain. Sealed vials of the steroid, made by the New England Compounding Center in Framingham, Mass., contained exserohilum rostratum, a fungus found in soil and plants.

For a full list of clinics receiving the recalled lots of spinal steroid injections, click here.

It's not clear how the fungus landed in the pharmacy's ostensibly sterile vials, some of which were shipped to clinics without sterility testing, according to an inspection by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. Floor mats near sterile drug-mixing areas were "visibly soiled with assorted debris," and a leak from a nearby boiler created an "environment susceptible to contaminant growth," according to the report.

Sealed vials of two other drugs made by the pharmacy contained bacteria, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The drugs were the steroid betamethasone and a cardioplegic solution that paralyzes the heart during open heart surgery.

The pharmacy has recalled all of its products and shut down operations.

Ameridose, a sister company of the New England Compounding Center, has also recalled all of its drugs citing sterility concerns, according to the FDA. Neither Ameridose nor the FDA have received any complaints or identified any impurities in those drugs.

Meningitis affects the membranous lining of the brain and spinal cord. Early symptoms of fungal meningitis -- including headache, fever, dizziness, nausea, sensitivity to light, stiff neck, weakness or numbness, slurred speech and pain, and redness or swelling at the injection site -- can take more than a month to appear.

The longest duration from the time of injection to the onset of symptoms in the current outbreak is 42 days, according to the CDC. The tainted steroids were recalled 37 days ago.

Fungal meningitis is diagnosed through a spinal tap, which draws cerebrospinal fluid from the spine that can be inspected for signs of the disease. Once detected, it can be treated with high doses of intravenous antifungal medications.

Unlike bacterial meningitis, fungal meningitis is not transmitted from person to person and only people who received the steroid injections are thought to be at risk.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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