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30 International Health Roundup - July 2011

Posted on Jul 30, 2011 by Sergio Ulloa ()

July may have brought the end of Europe's deadly e. coli outbreak, but the economic repercussions will continue to be felt for some time. European farmers are demanding compensation for millions in lost earnings, and the EU slapped a ban on Egyptian agricultural exports after identifying Egyptian fenugreek seeds as the source. Elsewhere, Hong Kong saw a steep rise in scarlet fever cases and a study identified systemic vulnerabilities in the US drug supply. Finally, if you're feeling ill you might want to tweet about it--research has shown Twitter may be a useful channel for doctor-patient communication. Here are some of the top international health stories of the past 30 days: E. coli outbreak ends The deadly e. coli outbreak that ravaged Europe during June petered out in July. Toward the end of the month both the World Health Organization (WHO) and Germany's Robert Koch Institute declared the threat had passed. An investigation by European health officials fingered a batch of fenugreek seeds imported from Egypt as the cause--this triggered a spat between the EU and Egypt's Ministry of Agriculture when on July 25th, the EU announced a ban on agricultural imports from Egypt (a move that could cost the North African country USD 4.2 billion). Egypt continues to deny its seeds were responsible, claiming all produce has tested negative for e. coli. The outbreak sickened 4,000 people and killed 50, the majority of them in Germany. The Robert Koch Institute warned that though the worst is over, isolated cases may still crop up periodically. For more on this story, click here. Study finds US drug safety lacking 40% of finished medicines and 80% of active ingredients on US store shelves are manufactured overseas, and recent years have seen several high-profile cases of illness and death as a result of adulteration (replacing ingredients with cheap or even fake substitutes). A 2008 case involving heparin resulted in 81 deaths and nearly 800 severe illnesses. A recent Pew study titled "After Heparin" focused on ways government regulators and pharmaceutical manufacturers could improve drug safety, partly by amending outmoded legislation that dates to the 1930s. spoke to Gabrielle Cosel, Project Manager for the Pew Prescription Project, who said regulators and industry players must work together to tackle this global health risk. For more on this story, click here. Scarlet fever strikes Hong Kong Hong Kong has faced a steep rise in scarlet fever cases this year. Mainland China and Macau have also seen increased numbers of cases, leading a top health official to call the outbreak "a regional phenomenon." Scarlet fever is in the same family of diseases as strep throat. While it was once a major cause of death among children, fatalities dropped off sharply after a vaccine was developed in 1924. Today scarlet fever is usually treated with antibiotics. The Asian outbreak has health officials concerned because it appears to involve a mutated, drug-resistant strain. "We will be monitoring the situation very closely," said Dr. Thomas Tsang, Controller of Hong Kong's Center for Health Protection. "If genetic mutation is responsible for the increased transmissibility of the bacteria, the outbreak may be sustained for some time." For more on this story, click here. Research shows Twitter could help doctors, patients communicate A study by the International Association for Dental Research (IADR) concluded Twitter is an effective means for the public to communicate health concerns and offers healthcare providers a new channel for contacting patients. The IADR based its findings on 772 tweets specifically mentioning dental pain. Of these, it categorized 83% as "general statements of dental pain;" 22% as "action taken or contemplated" and 15% as "describing impact on daily activities." 14% of users who either took action or were considering it sought advice from other users. For more on this story, click here. Be sure to check back on this space for more updates in August. About offers a one-stop source for international best practices in expatriate healthcare, expat trends and regulatory changes impacting the health industry. The site covers both global and regional health issues.
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