U.S. measles cases in 2019 highest since 1992

FILE PHOTO: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia September 30, 2014. REUTERS/Tami Chappell/File Photo/File Photo

By Alex Dobuzinskis

(Reuters) – The United States recorded 971 cases of measles in the first five months of 2019, surpassing the total for any year since 1992, which was before the disease was declared eradicated in the country, federal officials said on Thursday.

The United States declared measles eradicated from the country in 2000, but officials with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned on Thursday that the country risks losing its measles elimination status.

There were a total of 2,126 U.S. cases of measles in 1992, the CDC said in a statement.

The disease has spread mostly among school-age children whose parents declined to get them vaccinated.

Public health officials blame the resurgence on the spread of misinformation about vaccines. A vocal fringe of parents opposes vaccines, believing, contrary to scientific studies, that ingredients in them can cause autism.

“Measles is preventable and the way to end this outbreak is to ensure that all children and adults who can get vaccinated, do get vaccinated,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said in a statement.

“Again, I want to reassure parents that vaccines are safe, they do not cause autism,” Redfield said.

When measles was declared eradicated in the United States in 2000, it meant the virus was no longer continually present year-round although outbreaks have still happened via travelers coming from countries where measles is common.

Communities in New York City’s Brooklyn borough and Rockland County, an area of New York state about 30 miles (50 km) north of Manhattan, are dealing with measles outbreaks that have lasted nearly eight months.

Other measles cases have occurred in Oklahoma and Washington state.

Decades ago, before widespread use of the measles vaccine, about 3 million to 4 million people a year became sick with the disease in the United States with 400 to 500 deaths a year.

(Reporting by Rama Venkat in Bengaluru; Editing by Richard Chang and Diane Craft)

U.S. measles outbreak grows with 60 new measles cases across 26 states

FILE PHOTO: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia September 30, 2014. REUTERS/Tami Chappell/File Photo/File Photo

(Reuters) – The United States recorded 60 new measles cases last week, taking confirmed cases for the year to 940, the worst outbreak since 1994 and since measles was declared eliminated in 2000, federal health officials said on Monday.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported a 6.8% increase in the number of measles cases in the week ended May 24 in an outbreak that has now reached 26 states. The agency has been providing weekly updates every Monday.

Experts warn that the outbreak is not over as the number of cases edges closer to the 1994 total of 958. That was the highest number since 1992, when the CDC recorded 2,126 cases.

Public health officials have blamed the measles resurgence on the spread of misinformation about vaccines, as a vocal fringe of parents oppose vaccines, believing, contrary to scientific studies, that ingredients in them can cause autism.

Although the virus was eliminated from the United States in 2000, meaning the disease was no longer a constant presence, outbreaks still happen via travelers coming from countries where measles is still common, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

(Reporting by Shubham Kalia and Saumya Sibi Joseph in Bengaluru; Editing by Phil Berlowitz)

First Ebola vaccines given as WHO seeks to beat Congo outbreak

FILE PHOTO: A Congolese child washes her hands as a preventive measure against Ebola at the Church of Christ in Mbandaka, Democratic Republic of Congo May 20, 2018. REUTERS/Kenny Katombe/File Photo

By Kate Kelland

LONDON, (Reuters) – A vaccination campaign aimed at beating an outbreak of Ebola in Congo began on Monday in the port city of Mbandaka, where four cases of the deadly disease have been confirmed.

Use of the VSV-EBOV shot – an experimental vaccine developed by Merck – marks a “paradigm shift” in how to fight Ebola, said the World Health Organization’s head of emergency response, and means regions with Ebola outbreaks can in future expect more than just containment of an outbreak with basic public health measures such as isolation and hygiene.

The shot is designed for use in so-called ring vaccination plans. When a new Ebola case is diagnosed, all people who might have been in recent contact with the patient are traced and vaccinated to keep the disease from spreading.

“It’s the first time in the midst of an outbreak … that we’re using this as a way to stem transmission,” WHO’s Peter Salama said in a telephone interview. “It’s an important moment that changes the way we’ve seen Ebola for 40 years.”

The same strategy was used to test Merck’s vaccine in Guinea in late 2015, towards the end of an Ebola outbreak in West Africa from 2013 to 2016. The trial results showed it was safe and gave very high levels of protection against Ebola.

Around 30 Guinean health workers who were directly involved in that 2015 vaccine trial have travelled to Congo and will help with the immunizations there, Salama said.

Ebola causes hemorrhagic fever, vomiting and diarrhea and spreads through contact with the bodily fluids of an infected person. More than 11,300 people died in the West Africa epidemic.

This latest outbreak has killed 25 people since early April, according to the WHO. It is Congo’s ninth since the disease made its first known appearance near the country’s Ebola river in the 1970s.

Cases in Mbandaka, a port city on the Congo river, have raised concern that the virus could spread downstream to the capital, Kinshasa, which has a population of 10 million.

Salama, who visited Congo after the Ebola outbreak was first reported on May 8, said up to 1,000 people – first in Mbandaka and then in Bikoro and other affected areas -could be vaccinated within the next week.

Some 7,300 doses are already in Congo, and hundreds of thousands more are available in a stockpile built up by Merck.

“If we need any more we can ship it within days,” he said. “We’re fine for vaccine supply; that’s not an issue. The issue is going to be making sure we find every contact, track them down and get them vaccinated if they agree.”

Congolese health ministry data show four cases of Ebola confirmed in Mbandaka’s Wangata neighborhood and two suspected cases. One patient has died. For every case, up to 150 contacts will be offered the vaccine.

Salama said he was particularly concerned about the “unknowns” of the outbreak – namely the potential numbers of cases in the village of Ikobo, where no roads go and even helicopters have trouble landing.

“I’m actually very worried about Ikobo because we have four new suspected cases there and it’s very, very remote. We’ve tried to land helicopters there several times, but we need the community to clear the airstrip, and they haven’t fully cleared it yet,” Salama said.

“And when you haven’t got people on the ground, it’s very hard to assess the extent of the outbreak. I’m worried there are many more cases than we’ve been able to identify so far.”

(Reporting by Kate Kelland; Editing by Larry King)

Philippines orders probe into Sanofi dengue vaccine for 730,000 children

Concepcion Yusop, a national immunization program manager, shows an anti-dengue vaccine Dengvaxia inside a vaccine storage room in Sta. Cruz city, Metro Manila, Philippines December 4, 2017.

By Manolo Serapio Jr and Neil Jerome Morales

MANILA (Reuters) – The Philippines ordered an investigation on Monday into the immunization of more than 730,000 children with a vaccine for dengue that has been suspended following an announcement by French drug company Sanofi  that it could worsen the disease in some cases.

The World Health Organization said it hoped to conduct a full review by year-end of data on the vaccine, commercially known as Dengvaxia. In the meantime, the WHO recommended that it only be used in people who had a prior infection with dengue.

The government of Brazil, where dengue is a significant health challenge, confirmed it already had recommended restricted use of the vaccine but had not suspended it entirely.

Amid mounting public concern, Sanofi explained its “new findings” at a news conference in Manila but did not say why action was not taken after a WHO report in mid-2016 that identified the risk it was now flagging.

A non-governmental organization (NGO) said it had received information that three children who were vaccinated with Dengvaxia in the Philippines had died and a senator said he was aware of two cases.

However, Department of Health Undersecretary Gerardo Bayugo told Reuters the three referred to by the NGO died due to causes not related to the vaccine and Sanofi said no deaths had been reported as a result of the program.

“As far as we know, as far as we are made aware, there are no reported deaths that are related to dengue vaccination,” said Ruby Dizon, medical director at Sanofi Pasteur Philippines.

Last week, the Philippines Department of Health halted the use of Dengvaxia after Sanofi said it must be strictly limited due to evidence it can worsen the disease in people not previously exposed to the infection.

In a statement, Sanofi said the long-term safety evaluation of the vaccines showed significantly fewer hospitalizations due to dengue in vaccinated people over 9 years old compared with those who had not been vaccinated.

Nearly 734,000 children aged 9 and over in the Philippines have received one dose of the vaccine as part of a program that cost 3.5 billion pesos ($69.54 million).

The Department of Justice on Monday ordered the National Bureau of Investigation to look into “the alleged danger to public health … and if evidence so warrants, to file appropriate charges thereon.”

There was no indication that Philippines health officials knew of any risks when they administered the vaccination.

However, the WHO said in a July 2016 research paper that “vaccination may be ineffective or may theoretically even increase the future risk of hospitalized or severe dengue illness in those who are seronegative at the time of first vaccination regardless of age.”

Singapore’s Health Sciences Authority said last week that it flagged risks when Dengvaxia was approved there in October 2016, and was working with Sanofi to strengthen risk warnings on the drug’s packaging.

According to Sanofi in Manila, 19 licences were granted for Dengvaxia, and it was launched in 11 countries, two of which – the Philippines and Brazil – had public vaccination programs.

Brazil’s healthcare regulator Anvisa said in a statement that it now recommends that people who have never been infected with dengue not take the vaccine, which was approved for use in Brazil at the end of 2015.

It was not known whether many people have taken the vaccine, if it was part of any government immunization program or if any illnesses or deaths linked to the drug have been reported to the government.

Anvisa did not immediately respond to a request for comment, nor did the Health Ministry.

A spokesman for Sanofi in Paris was not immediately available for comment. “A SHAMELESS SCAM” A spokesman for Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte said on Sunday the government would hold to account those responsible for the program.

Former Health Secretary Janette Garin, who implemented the program under the administration of then-President Benigno Aquino, said she welcomed the investigation.

“In the event that there will be authorities who will point culpability to me, I am ready to face the consequences,” she told ANC TV. “We implemented it in accordance with WHO guidance and recommendations.”

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque said there had been no reported case of severe dengue infection since the vaccine was administered and urged the public “not to spread information that may cause undue alarm.”

Volunteers Against Crime and Corruption, an NGO, said it was checking a report that three children on the northern island of Luzon had died since being vaccinated in April 2016 but the Department of Health said the deaths were not due to Dengvaxia.

“When we evaluated the clinical records, it was not related to the dengue vaccination,” Bayugo said.

A prominent senator, Richard Gordon, told Reuters he was aware of two deaths – but gave no details – and said approval and procurement for the program was done with “undue haste.”

Dengue is a mosquito-borne tropical disease. Although it is not as serious as malaria, it is spreading rapidly in many parts of the world, killing about 20,000 people a year and infecting hundreds of millions.

While Sanofi’s Dengvaxia is the first-ever approved vaccine for dengue, scientists already recognized it was not perfect and did not protect equally against the four different types of the virus in clinical tests.

A new analysis from six years of clinical data showed Dengvaxia vaccine provides persistent protective benefit against dengue fever in those who had prior infection.

But for those not previously infected by the virus, more cases of severe disease could occur in the long term following vaccination, Sanofi said.

 

(Additional reporting by Karen Lema in Manila, John Geddie in Singapore and Brad Brooks in Sao Paulo and Anthony Boadle in Brasilia; Writing by John Chalmers; Editing by Raju Gopalakrishnan and Bill Trott)

 

South Korea approves aid to North Korea, North calls Trump ‘barking dog’

By Christine Kim

SEOUL (Reuters) – South Korea approved a plan on Thursday to send $8 million worth of aid to North Korea, as China warned the crisis on the Korean peninsula was getting more serious by the day and the war of words between Pyongyang and Washington continued.

North Korea’s foreign minister likened U.S. President Donald Trump to a “barking dog” on Thursday, after Trump warned he would “totally destroy” the North if it threatened the United States and its allies.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said the situation on the Korean peninsula was getting more serious by the day and could not be allowed to spin out of control.

“We call on all parties to be calmer than calm and not let the situation escalate out of control,” Wang said, according to a report from the state-run China News Service on Thursday.

Meeting separately with his South Korean counterpart, Kang Kyung-wha, Wang reiterated a call for South Korea to remove the U.S.-built THAAD anti-missile system, which China says is a threat to its own security.

“China hopes South Korea will make efforts to reduce tension,” a report on China’s official Xinhua news agency quoted Wang as saying.

The decision to send aid to North Korea was not popular in South Korea, hitting President Moon Jae-in’s approval rating. It also raised concerns in Japan and the United States, and followed new U.N. sanctions against North Korea over its sixth nuclear test earlier this month.

The South’s Unification Ministry said its aid policy remained unaffected by geopolitical tensions with the North. The exact timing of when the aid would be sent, as well as its size, would be confirmed later, the ministry said in a statement.

The South said it aimed to send $4.5 million worth of nutritional products for children and pregnant women through the World Food Programme and $3.5 million worth of vaccines and medicinal treatments through UNICEF.

“We have consistently said we would pursue humanitarian aid for North Korea in consideration of the poor conditions children and pregnant women are in there, apart from political issues,” said Unification Minister Cho Myong-gyon.

UNICEF’s regional director for East Asia and the Pacific Karin Hulshof said in a statement before the decision the problems North Korean children face “are all too real”.

“Today, we estimate that around 200,000 children are affected by acute malnutrition, heightening their risk of death and increasing rates of stunting,” Hulshof said.

“Food and essential medicines and equipment to treat young children are in short supply,” she said.

The last time the South had sent aid to the North was in December 2015 through the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) under ex-president Park Geun-hye.

 

DOG BARKING

South Korea’s efforts aimed at fresh aid for North Korea dragged down Moon’s approval rating. Realmeter, a South Korean polling organization, said on Thursday Moon’s approval rating stood at 65.7 percent, weakening for a fourth straight month.

Although the approval rate is still high, those surveyed said Moon had fallen out of favor due to North Korea’s continued provocations and the government’s decision to consider sending aid to North Korea, Realmeter said.

Moon will meet Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Trump later on Thursday on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly, where North Korea was expected to be the core agenda item.

In an address on Tuesday, Trump escalated his standoff with North Korea over its nuclear challenge, threatening to “totally destroy” the country of 26 million people if the North threatened the United States and its allies.

Trump also mocked its leader, Kim Jong Un, calling him a “rocket man”.

North Korea’s Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho called Trump’s comments “the sound of a dog barking”.

“There is a saying that goes: ‘Even when dogs bark, the parade goes on’,” Ri said in televised remarks to reporters in front of a hotel near the U.N. headquarters in New York.

“If (Trump) was thinking about surprising us with dog-barking sounds then he is clearly dreaming,” he said.

Asked by reporters what he thought of Trump calling North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “rocket man”, Ri quipped: “I feel sorry for his aides.”

North Korea conducted its sixth and largest nuclear test on Sept. 3 and has launched numerous missiles this year, including two intercontinental ballistic missiles and two other rockets that flew over Japan.

Such provocations have sparked strong disapproval from the international community, especially from the United States and Japan.

 

(Additional reporting by Ben Blanchard and Michael Martina in BEIJING; Editing by Michael Perry and Paul Tait)