Winter Norovirus Shows its Face – 28th September 2015

This week reveals more fascinating news about travel health across the globe. Here are a few highlights to be aware of.

Winter Norovirus shows its face in British school

As reported in the Bournemouth Echo a British school, New Milton junior school, has suffered an outbreak of norovirus, the winter vomiting bug, with several pupils taken ill. Public health officials were notified about the extremely contagious illness after a number of pupils were off school because of it on Friday 25th September.

The norovirus lives in the excrement and vomit of infected people. It spreads via contaminated food, water and surfaces. The school is following advice from Public Health England and parents have been asked to keep the affected children at home until they’ve been symptom-free for 48 hours. PHE has also advised the school to arrange a ‘deep clean’ to stop it the bug from spreading further.

The cause of the outbreak isn’t yet known but it’s that time of year, when the disease typically breaks out. If you have school-age children, here’s how to avoid the illness and stop it spreading:

  1. Your children need to wash their hands often and thoroughly with soap and water, especially after using the loo at school
  2. They should avoid sharing towels and clothes
  3. If your child catches norovirus, disinfect contaminated areas and objects with a bleach-based household cleaner and wash their clothes and bedding separately on a hot wash to kill the virus
  4. Flush away any infected faeces and vomit and clean the entire toilet / bedroom area frequently

Revolutionary new Ebola detection kit

The worst of the Ebola crisis has ended for now, and infection rates have dropped right off. But now that there has been a major outbreak the disease is out in the wild, which means it’ll remain an ongoing threat in affected areas. One big problem so far has been detecting the illness early enough, with detection kits expensive and the disease notoriously difficult to diagnose in the first place.

Luckily one young US scientist has cracked it. She has just won a top prize at the 2015 Google Science Fair for her new and innovative kit for diagnosing Ebola. The kit costs just twenty five dollars a go and detects the illness in just half an hour.

Olivia Hallisey wants to cut the Ebola death rate in half, from the current 90% to 50%, a scenario that’s entirely possible with fast diagnosis. She’s also been awarded a $50,000 Google scholarship to help fund college and she eventually plans to join humanitarian organisations on the ground. In her words:

“Current methods of Ebola detection utilize enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (“ELISA”) detection kits which cost approximately $1,00 each, require complex instrumentation, trained medical professionals to administer, and up to 12 hours from testing to diagnosis. The kits require the unbroken refrigeration of reagents from point of manufacture to point of use (the “cold chain”), making the ability to diagnose in remote areas, where refrigeration is often non existent or unreliable, highly problematic if not impossible.”

Bird flu insurance on the cards again for UK farmers

Bird flu insurance is once again on the table for British poultry farmers. Insurers took the cover off the market temporarily after July’s outbreak in Lancashire, after deciding they didn’t know enough about the potential cost of a post-outbreak clear-up. Now they’ve assessed the situation in detail and two underwriters are offering the insurance again.

Farmers know the score. The experts don’t need reminding that avian flu is still a threat, and some scientists still believe it’s only a matter of time before the disease crosses the animal-human barrier then ‘learns’ how to spread human to human.

Here’s what the NHS says about avian flu:

  • Most types of bird flu virus don’t infect humans, but two are thought to be dangerous: H5N1 and H7N9
  • They’re difficult to catch and don’t currently spread human to human
  • Several people have caught it around the world and there have been several deaths
  • Bird flu affects hens, ducks, turkeys and geese. It can be passed between domestic and farm birds
  • Because some birds don’t get ill even though they carry the virus, seemingly healthy birds can still pose a risk
  • Nobody has caught bird flu in the UK yet
  • There are plans in place to react fast if it arises in humans

Anthrax suspected in India

Hukumpeta, in Visakhatanam district, India, has seen five suspected cases of cutaneous anthrax, luckily a treatable version of the disease. The patients have been taken to the King George Hospital today. There are no details available so far about the source of the outbreak, the total number of people affected and what’s being done to contain it.

What is anthrax?

Anthrax is most common in agricultural South and Central America, eastern Europe, Asia, Africa, and the Middle East. Luckily it’s rare and is almost always an occupational risk. Unless you work with animal hides or handle wool, or you’re a farmer, vet or butcher, it’s unlikely you’ll catch it.

Is there an anthrax vaccine? Human anthrax vaccines were developed by the UK in the 1950s. On the other hand, according to Dr. Meryl Nass, an expert in the disease, about 20% of people who have the vaccination actually develop chronic medical problems and the vaccine isn’t particularly effective in the first place, with some vaccinated people catching the disease anyway.

Refugee camps in Central Darfur report 21 malaria deaths in 7 days

Displaced people in camps near Garsila, the capital of Central Darfur’s Wadi Salih area, have seen both a hike in malaria cases and an increase in the price of malaria medication. Last week 21 people died in camps at Jedda and El Jebel, mostly children, elderly people and people whose families couldn’t afford medication.

Apparently there are dozens of people bedridden with the disease, suffering the symptoms without treatment, which means the mortality rate is unusually high. The disease popped up after the first rains of the season, a couple of months ago, and local hospitals are currently seeing 50 – 70 new malaria patients a day.

We’ll be back next week with another travel health update. See you then.