KOCHI/NEW DELHI, India, Aug 20, 2018 (News Wires) - Indian health authorities prepared defenses against the spread of disease in flood-hit Kerala state on Monday as water receded and a huge clean-up gathered pace after the worst floods in a century killed more than 200 people.
Incessant rain since Aug. 8 in the southern state has swelled rivers and triggered landslides. Dozens of people are missing and nearly a million are sheltering in thousands of relief camps, state officials said.
“The biggest challenges immediately ahead are cleaning of the flood-hit houses, rehabilitation, and prevention of water-borne diseases,” said Mahesh P., a village-level officer from Rayamangalam, some 45 km (28 miles) from Kerala’s financial capital of Kochi.
Light to moderate rain was expected across Kerala on Monday, bringing some respite to rescue workers, who have been battling rising waters and mudslides to reach tens of thousands of stranded villagers.
Rainfall in the state during the June-September monsoon season has been more than 40 per cent higher than normal, with torrential rain in the last 10 days forcing authorities to release water from dozens of dangerously full dams, sending surges into rivers that then overflowed their banks.
Anil Vasudevan, who handles disaster management at Kerala’s health department, said the state was preparing to battle any outbreak of diseases in the relief camps and preventive medicines were being distributed.
Mahesh said villagers had all pulled together to rescue people and prevent an even bigger disaster.
“The bulk of the credit for the rescue goes to the ordinary citizens. The army, the navy, the local authorities assisted them,” Mahesh said.
“The flood has bonded the people like never before, with people sharing whatever they had.”
Kerala Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan said there was no shortage of food in the state as traders had stocked up ahead of Onam, the state’s biggest festival which falls on Aug. 25.
The state has cancelled all official celebrations in connection with the Hindu harvest festival.
KURASHIKI, Japan, July 12, 2018 (News Wires) - Intense heat and water shortages raised fears of disease outbreaks in flood-hit western Japan on Thursday as the death toll from the worst weather disaster in 36 years neared 200.
More than 200,000 households had no water a week after torrential rains caused floods and set off landslides across western Japan, bringing death and destruction to decades-old communities built on mountain slopes and flood plains.
The death toll rose to 195, with several dozen people still missing, the government said on Thursday.
With daily temperatures above 30 Celsius (86 Fahrenheit) and high humidity, life in school gymnasiums and other evacuation centers, where families spread out on mats on the floors, began to take a toll.
Television footage showed one elderly woman trying to sleep by kneeling with her upper body on the seat of a folding chair, arms over her eyes to keep out the light.
With few portable fans in the evacuation centres, many survivors tried to cool themselves with paper fans.
The limited water supply meant that people are not getting enough fluids and in danger of suffering from heatstroke, authorities said. People are also reluctant to use what water they do have to wash their hands, raising fears of epidemics.
"Without water, we can't really clean anything up. We can't wash anything," one man told NHK television.
The government has sent water trucks to the disaster area, but supplies remain limited.
More than 70,000 military, police and firefighters toiled through the debris in a grim search for the missing.
Some teams shoveled dirt into sacks and piled the bags into trucks. Others used diggers and chainsaws to work through landslides and splintered buildings.
Many areas were buried deep in mud that smelled like sewage and had hardened in the heat, making the search more difficult.
Disasters set off by torrential rains have become more frequent in Japan, perhaps due to global warming, experts say. Dozens of people died after similar rains caused flooding around the same time last year.
"It's an undeniable fact that this sort of disaster due to torrential, unprecedented rain is becoming more frequent in recent years," Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a news conference in Tokyo.
"Preserving the lives and peaceful existence of our citizens is the government's biggest duty. We recognise that there's a need to look into steps we can take to reduce the damage from disasters like this even a little bit," he added.
ATLANTA, April 27, 2018 (AP) - Disease hunters are using genetic sequencing in their investigation of the ongoing food poisoning outbreak linked to romaine lettuce, a technique that is revolutionizing the detection of germs in food.
The genetic analysis is being used to bolster investigations and - in some cases - connect the dots between what were once seemingly unrelated illnesses. It also is uncovering previously unfathomed sources of food poisoning, including one outbreak from apples dipped in caramel.
So far, most of the work has largely focused on one germ, listeria. But it is expanding. By the end of this year, labs in all 50 states are expected to also be using genetic sequencing for much more common causes of food poisoning outbreaks, including salmonella and the E. coli bacteria linked to recent lettuce outbreak.
That means the number of identifiable outbreaks are likely to explode even if the number of illnesses don't.
"There are a lot of outbreaks where they don't connect the dots. Now they're going to be connected," said Michael Doyle, a retired University of Georgia professor who is an expert on foodborne illness.
Not only that: The new DNA testing is enabling disease detectives to spot food contamination before anyone is aware of a resulting human illness - the equivalent of starting a murder investigation by finding a gun first and then looking for someone with a gunshot wound.
"It's turning around how outbreaks are figured out," said Bill Marler, a prominent Seattle lawyer who has made a business of suing companies whose products sicken people.
Marler added that the program is in its early stages and it's too early to call it a success. But he said the new approach has the potential to transform how and when outbreaks come to light.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is driving the program. It estimates that 48 million Americans get sick - and 3,000 die - from food poisoning each year.
The new technique relies on whole genome sequencing, which has been used in biology for more than two decades. The laboratory process determines nearly all of an organism's DNA, the genetic material needed to build and maintain an organism. And scientists use software to compare the DNA of specimens to see if they are the same strain and how resistant they are to current medicines.
The technique allows the analysis to become faster, cheaper and more automated, said Dr. Robert Tauxe, one of the CDC's leading experts on food poisoning.
Plans are to use the technology against several germs that cause food poisoning, but so far all the work has concentrated on listeria. The bacteria cause around 1,600 illnesses each year, a tiny fraction of U.S. foodborne disease diagnoses. But it is a particularly lethal infection, killing nearly one in five people who get it.
Historically, listeria-caused outbreaks were known as "the graveyard of epidemiology." It could take weeks for people to develop symptoms, meaning food evidence was discarded - and some of the patients were dead - by the time officials began to sort things out.
From 1983 to 1997, only five listeria outbreaks were identified in the United States. They were obvious and large - with a median of 54 cases per outbreak.
That's how it was with other food poisoning outbreaks, too.
"Most foodborne outbreaks were detected because it happened in one place," like in a town where a popular restaurant's customers grew ill, Tauxe said.
Outbreaks were investigated by asking people what they ate before they got sick, and then comparing notes to see what patients had in common.
The field took a big step in the 1990s, after a frightening outbreak erupted in the Seattle area. Four deaths and more than 700 illnesses in four states eventually were traced to undercooked Jack in the Box restaurant hamburgers contaminated with E. coli.
The outbreak prodded the CDC to develop a program that relied on a technique called pulsed-field gel electrophoresis in which investigators could look at a germ's DNA in clumps. It helped health officials more easily link illnesses, but it was imperfect: It couldn't make exact matches and sometimes missed when cases were related.
Then came whole genome sequencing.
The CDC began using the technique in food poisoning investigations in 2013. Initially state labs sent samples to a CDC lab in Atlanta for testing. Now, the CDC is working to get labs in all 50 states up and running.
Last year, the federal agency awarded about $32 million to state and city health departments to work on foodborne, waterborne and fungal disease outbreaks. That included $12 million to help them set up whole genome sequencing technology.
Since whole genome sequencing began, the CDC says it's catching more listeria outbreaks with a food source identified. By that measure, the number rose from about two per year to an average of more than six per year from 2014 to 2016.
One of the first success stories came a couple of weeks after Halloween in 2014, when listeria cases began popping up in Arizona, New Mexico and the Midwest. Through whole genome sequencing, investigators discovered about three dozen people had been sickened.
In interviews, patients and their families didn't mention foods commonly associated with listeria. But most did say they had eaten packaged caramel apples.
Scientists hadn't considered them a threat, because apples and caramel aren't hospitable to listeria individually. But it turns out that putting a stick in a caramel-covered apple gives germs a door into tiny spaces between caramel and the apple's skin.
Besides fingering foods previously seen as unthreatening, whole genome sequencing has the potential to turn investigations around: In several outbreaks recently, germs found in food plant inspections prompted product recalls before anyone knew about an outbreak. Then whole genome sequencing helped find and confirm illnesses.
In 2015, state officials in South Carolina and Texas found listeria in tests of Blue Bell-brand ice cream products. Investigators used pulsed-field gel electrophoresis to find 11 illnesses with a similar genetic pattern, but whole genome sequencing definitively linked 10 and caused one to be tossed out as unrelated. Some of the illnesses had happened as far back as 2010.
"They're picking up cases that are five years old. This is revolutionary," Doyle said.
Whole genome sequencing is becoming increasingly important, but it's not yet the basis of outbreak solving. It was used in the current investigation of E. coli bacteria found in romaine lettuce grown in Arizona, which has sickened at least 84 people in 19 states, according to a CDC update released Wednesday. But "that's not how we first detected the outbreak," said Matthew Wise, a CDC food poisoning investigator.
It was more crucial in an investigation last year of a 21-state salmonella outbreak that ultimately was linked to ground beef. Whole genome sequencing allowed health officials to wade through a wave of cases to parse out the illnesses that were most closely matched and then look for a common origin, Wise said.
"Using our previous technology," Wise said, "we would have had a really difficult time solving that one."