Category Archives: News roundups

Aug 7 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: August 7

EBOLA UPDATE: CDC Increases Deployments to West Africa
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has announced an increase in its deployments and efforts in West Africa in response to the ongoing Ebola outbreak, which is the largest in the history of the disease. The public health agency has activated its Emergency Operations Center to its highest response level and plans on adding 50 disease control experts to the region within the next month.

As of Monday, CDC deployments are:

  • Guinea: 6 currently deployed,
  • Liberia: 12 currently deployed
  • Nigeria: 4 currently deployed
  • Sierra Leone: 9 currently deployed

“The bottom line with Ebola is we know how to stop it: traditional public health. Find patients, isolate and care for them; find their contacts; educate people; and strictly follow infection control in hospitals. Do those things with meticulous care and Ebola goes away,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH, in a release. “To keep America safe, health care workers should isolate and evaluate people who have returned from Guinea, Liberia, and Sierra Leone in the past 21 days and have fever or other symptoms suggestive of Ebola. We will save lives in West Africa and protect ourselves at home by stopping Ebola at the source.” Read more on Ebola.

Study: About Half of All Physicians Utilize EHRs
Electronic health records (EHRs) are increasingly being utilized by physicians and hospitals, according to two new studies in the journal Health Affairs. Researchers from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of the National Coordinator for Health Information Technology determined that in 2013 approximately 78 percent of  office-based physicians used some form of EHRs and about 48 percent of all physicians used an EHR system with advanced functionalities. They also found that 59 percent of hospitals in 2013 were using an EHR system with certain advanced functionalities. “Patients are seeing the benefits of health IT as a result of the significant strides that have been made in the adoption and meaningful use of electronic health records,” said Karen DeSalvo, MD, MPH, national coordinator for health information technology. “We look forward to working with our partners to ensure that people’s digital health information follows them across the care continuum so it will be there when it matters most.” Read more on technology.

Number of Suicide Attempts Using Prescription Drugs Up Dramatically
Suicide attempts involving prescription medications and other drugs climbed 51 percent among people ages 12 and older from 2005 to 2011, according to two new reports from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. The greatest increase was seen in people between the ages of 45 and 64, with a 104 percent increase, followed by adults younger than 30, with a 58 percent increase. "We probably are seeing an increase in overall suicide attempts, and along with that we are also seeing an increase in drug-related suicide attempts," said Peter Delany, director of the agency's Center for Behavioral Health Statistics and Quality, in a release. "People have access to medications, and they are using both prescription and over-the-counter meds. It is clear that there are more drugs out there." Read more on prescription drugs.

Aug 6 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: August 6

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EBOLA UPDATE: African Death Toll Hits 932 as Liberia Shuts Down a Major Hospital Over Continued Infections
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
St. Joseph's Catholic hospital in the Liberia capital of Monrovia has been shut down after the death of its hospital director from Ebola and the subsequent infections of six staff members, including two nuns and a priest. The World Health Organization reports that there were 45 deaths in the three days leading to August 4—bringing the death toll so far to 932—and is calling for an emergency meeting to determine whether the outbreak constitutes a "Public Health Emergency of International Concern" and to discuss what additional public health measures can be taken. Read more on infectious diseases.

‘Gluten-free’ Labels Must Now Fully Meet FDA Standards
What does a “gluten-free” food label actually mean? Exactly what it says, as of yesterday. August 5 was the deadline for all U.S. foods bearing a gluten-free label claim to meet the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) final rule covering the issue. The rule sets a gluten limit of less than 20 ppm (parts per million) in foods that carry the label, which is the lowest level that can be detected. The agency issued the rule last August, giving manufacturers one year to bring their product lines into compliance. “Gluten-free” labeling is critical to people with celiac disease, which has no cure and can only be treated through diet. "This standard ’gluten-free’ definition eliminates uncertainty about how food producers label their products. People with celiac disease can rest assured that foods labeled 'gluten-free' meet a clear standard established and enforced by FDA," said Felicia Billingslea, director of FDA's division of food labeling and standards, in a release. Read more on food safety.

Study: Daily Aspirin Linked to Reduction in Risk for Some Cancers
A daily dose of aspirin is linked to a reduction in the risk of developing and dying from colon, stomach and esophageal cancers, according to a new study in the Annals of Oncology. Researchers analyzed the results of available studies, determining “that most people between the ages of 50 and 65 would benefit from a daily aspirin," said lead researcher Jack Cuzick, head of the Center for Cancer Prevention at Queen Mary, University of London, adding, “It looks like if everyone took a daily aspirin, there would be less cancer, and that would far outweigh any side effects.” The most serious side effect associated with aspirin is gastrointestinal bleeding. According to HealthDay, Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, deputy chief medical officer at the American Cancer Society, said that while the study does not mean that everyone should be taking aspirin as a cancer-prevention measure, if does mean they should discuss the possibility with their doctors. Read more on cancer.

Aug 5 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: August 5

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Crowdsourcing Apps as Effective at Experts in Providing Healthy Food Information
Crowdsourcing healthy food information and feedback via smartphone apps can be as effective as working with trained experts, according to a new study in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association. Researchers used 450 photos of food/drink uploaded onto the Eatery app by 333 unique users in Europe and the United States, comparing the “healthiness” ratings from the app’s users to those from three public health students training in dietary assessment. The results were similar and both were in line with national dietary guidance. "Crowdsourcing has potential as a way to improve adherence to dietary self-monitoring over a longer period of time," wrote the researchers. "The results of this study found that when basic feedback on diet quality by peer raters is crowdsourced, it is comparable to feedback from expert raters, and that peers can rate both healthy and unhealthy foods in the expected direction.” Read more on nutrition.

HUD: $106M to Improve Home Visiting Programs for Pregnant Women, Parents of Young Children
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has awarded nearly $106 million to expand voluntary, evidence-based home visiting services for pregnant women and the parents of young children. Forty-six states, the District of Columbia and five jurisdictions will share the funding from the Maternal, Infant, and Early Childhood Home Visiting Program; home visits have been shown to prevent child abuse and neglect, while promoting childhood health and development. “These awards allow states to reach more parents and families in an effort to improve children’s health while at the same time building essential supports within their communities,” said Mary Wakefield, PhD, RN, administrator of the Health Resources and Services Administration, in a release. Read more on maternal and infant health.

Study: Hepatitis C Could Be ‘Rare’ In the U.S. By 2036
A new computer model indicates that improved medicine and screening regimens could make hepatitis C a “rare” disease in the United States within the next two decades, according to a new study in the Annals of Internal Medicine. Currently approximately one in every 100 people in the United States are infected with the virus, which is a liver infection that can cause fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain and other symptoms, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The researchers determined that this incidence rate could drop to approximately one in every 1,500 people by 2036 based on current and continuing improvements in treatment, and recommend a greater emphasis on identifying at-risk and infected patients. Read more on infectious disease.

Aug 4 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: August 4

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EBOLA UPDATE: Nigeria Confirms Second Ebola Case
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa.)
Nigeria today confirmed its second case of Ebola amidst an epidemic that has so far killed more than 700 people in West Africa. Liberia has also ordered the cremation of all bodies of people who die from Ebola, in response to communities concerned over having the bodies buried nearby. However, even as the virus continues to spread in West Africa, Anthony S. Fauci, MD, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has told NBC that the risk posed by the return of the Ebola-infected health workers to the United States is "infinitesimally small.” The second U.S. patient is scheduled to arrive for treatment tomorrow. Read more on infectious disease.

HHS: New Committee to Advise on Children’s Health During Disasters
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has announced the formation of a new federal committee to advise on children’s health issues during natural and manmade disasters. The National Advisory Committee on Children and Disasters’ contributions will include comprehensive planning and policies to meet kids’ health needs before, during and after disasters and other public health emergencies. The committee, formed under the Pandemic and All-Hazards Preparedness Reauthorization Act of 2013, includes 15 members selected from 82 nominations. Seven are from outside the federal government and 8 are from within (the full list is available here). "Ensuring the safety and well-being of our nation's children in the wake of disasters is vital to building resilience in every community,” said HHS Secretary Sylvia M. Burwell, in a release. “We look forward to working with the committee toward this common goal." Read more on disasters.

Toledo Lifts Ban on Drinking Water; 400,000 Residents Affected Over the Weekend
The town of Toledo, Ohio, has lifted the ban on drinking water implemented over the weekend after dangerously high levels of algae were found in Lake Erie. The Great Lake provides much of the area’s drinking water. Approximately 400,000 residents were affected by the ban. Read more on water and air quality.

Aug 1 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: August 1

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EBOLA UPDATE: CDC Issues Travel Warning for Three African Countries
(NewPublicHealth is monitoring the public health crisis in West Africa)
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a Level 3 Travel Warning for Guinea, Liberia and Sierra Leone, calling for Americans to avoid nonessential travel to the West African countries due to the growing Ebola outbreak. CDC officials are also on the ground:

  • Tracking the epidemic including using real-time data to improve response
  • Improving case finding
  • Improving contact tracing
  • Improving infection control
  • Improving health communication
  • Advising embassies
  • Coordinating with the World Health Organization and other partners
  • Strengthening Ministries of Health and helping them establish emergency management systems

“This is the biggest and most complex Ebola outbreak in history. Far too many lives have been lost already,” said CDC Director Tom Frieden, MD, MPH. “It will take many months, and it won’t be easy, but Ebola can be stopped. We know what needs to be done. CDC is surging our response, sending 50 additional disease control experts to the region in the next 30 days.” Read more on global health.

FDA Takes Steps to Improve Diagnostic Testing
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is taking new steps to ensure that patients have access to accurate, consistent and reliable diagnostic testing. The agency announced today that it was issuing a final guidance on the development, review and approval or clearance of companion diagnostics, which are used to determine whether patients should receive certain drugs. The FDA is also notifying Congress that it will publish a proposed risk-based oversight framework for laboratory developed tests. “Ensuring that doctors and patients have access to safe, accurate and reliable diagnostic tests to help guide treatment decisions is a priority for the FDA,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD, in a release. “Inaccurate test results could cause patients to seek unnecessary treatment or delay and sometimes forgo treatment altogether.” Read more on the FDA.

CDC: New Online Resource on Opportunities in U.S. Health System
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Office for State, Tribal, Local and Territorial Support (OSTLTS) has launched a new website, Health System Transformation and Improvement Resources for Health Departments, to provide information, resources and training opportunities related to ongoing efforts to improve efficiency and effectiveness in the U.S. health system. This includes the public health, health care, insurance and other sectors. Topics covered by the new site range from shared services, community benefit assessment and accountable care organizations to public health law, workforce, return on investment and financing. Read more on access to health care.

Jul 31 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 31

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Study: Families With Preschoolers Purchasing Fewer High-Calorie Drinks
Recent progress in stalling and perhaps even reversing the childhood obesity epidemic may be linked to fewer families with preschool-aged children purchasing high-calorie drinks, according to a new study in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine. Researchers used Nielsen Homescan data from approximately 43,000 U.S. households with young children from 2000 to 2011, identifying the top 20 foods and beverages purchased. “Decreases in purchases of fluid milks, soft drinks, juice and juice drinks, and grain-based desserts were the primary drivers of this change,” said lead author Christopher Ford, MPH, doctoral candidate in nutrition at the University of North Carolina’s Gillings School of Global Public Health. “These data suggest that these households may have purchased fewer calories from solid fats and added sugars.” Previous research shows that approximately 70 to 80 percent of a preschooler’s diet comes from food purchased at stores. Read more on nutrition.

Peace Corps Withdraws from Three West African Countries Due to Ebola Crisis
The Peace Corps announced yesterday that it was removing all 340 of its volunteers from Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea in reaction to the increasing spread of the Ebola virus in West Africa. The organization said it has been working closely with experts from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of State to monitor the health crisis and determine how it should respond. “The Peace Corps has enjoyed long partnerships with the government and people of Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea and is committed to continuing volunteers’ work there,” according to a Peace Corps release. “A determination on when volunteers can return will be made at a later date.” Read more on global health.

Study: Women Who Live Near Green Spaces Give Birth to Healthier Babies
Pregnant women who live near green spaces—such as parks, community gardens and even cemeteries—give birth to healthier babies with significantly higher birth weights, according to a new study in the journal Occupational and Environmental Medicine. Researchers analyzed data on approximately 40,000 single live births in Tel Aviv, Israel. "We found that overall, an increase of surrounding greenery near the home was associated with a significant increase of birth weight and decreased risk for low birth weight," said Michael Friger, PhD, of Ben-Gurion University of the Negev's Department of Public Health. "This was the first study outside of the United States and Europe demonstrating associations between greenery and birth weight, as well as the first to report the association with low birth weight." Read more on maternal and infant health.

Jul 30 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 30

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U.S. Surgeon General Issues ‘Call to Action’ Warning on Tanning and Skin Cancer
The U.S. Surgeon General has released the office’s first Call to Action on the dangers of tanning as it relates to skin cancer, which the Surgeon General called a “major public health problem.” The Call to Action is designed to increase awareness of skin cancer and presents five strategic goals to support its prevention:

  • Increase opportunities for sun protection in outdoor settings
  • Provide individuals with the information they need to make informed, healthy choices about ultraviolet (UV) radiation exposure
  • Promote policies that advance the national goal of preventing skin cancer
  • Reduce harms from indoor tanning
  • Strengthen research, surveillance, monitoring, and evaluation related to skin cancer prevention

Skin cancer is the most common type of cancer in the United States, with nearly 5 million people treated for all types combined annually at a cost of $8.1 billion. Melanoma is responsible for the most deaths and 90 percent of melanomas are estimated to be the result of UV exposure. Read more on cancer.

NIH, 23andMe Partner to Expand Researcher Access to Genetic Disease Data
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has entered into a $1.4 million, two-year deal with home genetics startup 23andMe to open up the company’s stores of genetic data to external researchers. The grant will enable the creation of survey tools and other methods to help researchers access information on thousands of diseases and traits for more than 400,000 people who have use 23andMe’s services. “23andMe is building a platform to connect researchers and consumers that will enable discoveries to happen faster,” said Anne Wojcicki, co-founder and CEO of 23andMe, in a release. “This grant from the NIH recognizes the ability of 23andMe to create a unique, web-based platform that engages consumers and enables researchers from around the world to make genetic discoveries.” Read more on research.

Study: Students Increasingly Accepting Healthier School Lunches
Despite initial pushback from students wary of revised school lunch policies implemented to provide heathier meals in 2012, a nationally representative sample of 557 U.S. public elementary schools found that approximately 70 percent of respondents said that students liked the new lunches by the second half of the school year. Researchers also found that school meal sales were up for disadvantaged students, who are more likely than their peers to experience a lack of proper nutrition. Read more on school health.

Jul 29 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 29

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NCAA Reaches Preliminary Concussion Settlement, Including $70M Monitoring Program
The NCAA has reached a preliminary settlement in response to a class-action push to revise its head injury policies. The settlement includes a $70 million medical monitoring fund that would provide all former college athletes with the opportunity to receive neurological screenings, as well as a new national protocol which would require assessments by trained professionals and keep athletes from returning to games or practices the same day they suffer a head injury. “This offers college athletes another level of protection, which is vitally important to their health,” said the lead plaintiffs’ lawyer, Steve Berman, according to The New York Times. “Student-athletes—not just football players—have dropped out of school and suffered huge long-term symptoms because of brain injuries. Anything we can do to enhance concussion management is a very important day for student-athletes.” Read more on injury prevention.

Marijuana Legalization Not Linked to Rise in Teen Use
The gradual increase in marijuana use by U.S. teens over the past two decades is not linked to the legalization of medical marijuana in various states, according to a new research paper based on data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Researchers determined that the probability that a high school student had used marijuana in the previous 30 days was only 0.8 percent higher in states where use was legal. While marijuana is illegal under federal law, it has been legalized for medical purposes in 21 states and the District of Columbia, and legalized for recreational use in Colorado and Washington. "Our results are not consistent with the hypothesis that the legalization of medical marijuana caused an increase in the use of marijuana among high school students," wrote D. Mark Anderson of Montana State University, Daniel Rees of the University of Colorado and Benjamin Hansen of the University of Oregon, in the paper. Read more on substance abuse.

Study: 5-10 Minutes of Daily Running Can Add Three Years to Life Expectancy
As little as five to ten minutes of slow running every day can add up to an additional three years of life expectancy, according to a new study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology. Researchers examined data on 55,137 adults 18-100 years of age (with a media age of 44 years), finding that running for the length of time at six miles an hour or slower was associated with markedly reduced risk of death from all causes, including heart disease. Researchers said the results should help drive inactive individuals to take up exercise programs. Read more on physical activity.

Jul 28 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 28

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Study: EHRs Don’t Increase the Risk for Medicare Fraud
The use of electronic health records (EHRs) does not increase the risk of Medicare fraud, according to a new study from the University of Michigan Schools of Information and Public Health and the Harvard School of Public Health. In the study, scheduled to be published in the journal Health Affairs, researchers analyzed longitudinal data to determine whether U.S. hospitals that recently adopted EHRs also saw increases in the severity of patients’ conditions and payments from Medicare; they determined that adopters and non-adopters saw rates increase approximately equally. "There have been a lot of anecdotes and individual cases of hospitals using electronic health records in fraudulent ways. Therefore there was an assumption that this was happening systematically, but we find that it isn't," said Julia Adler-Milstein, U-M assistant professor of information, as well as an assistant professor of health management and policy in the U-M School of Public Health. Read more on technology.

Fist Bumps May Be the Best Greeting for Reducing Germ Transmission
Want to meet society’s hand-to-hand greeting expectation while also reducing the transmission of germs? Try a fist bump. Researchers from the Institute of Biological, Environmental, and Rural Sciences at Aberystwyth University in the United Kingdom used a germ-covered glove test to determine that handshakes transmit nearly twice as many bacteria as high-fives, which in turn transmit more bacteria than fist bumps. The study in the American Journal of Infection Control determined that duration and grip of a physical greeting also increased the number of bacteria transmitted. “Adoption of the fist bump as a greeting could substantially reduce the transmission of infectious diseases between individuals,” said author, David Whitworth, PhD. “It is unlikely that a no-contact greeting could supplant the handshake; however, for the sake of improving public health we encourage further adoption of the fist bump as a simple, free, and more hygienic alternative to the handshake.” Read more on infectious disease.

Fear a Greater Motivator than Data When it Comes to Using Sunscreen
Fear over developing skin cancer is a larger motivator for people’s usesof sunscreen than actual data that quantifies their risk, according to a new study in the Journal of Behavioral Medicine. Researchers analyzed data on approximately 1,500 people with no history of skin cancer, finding that for people who reported “never” using it and those who reported “always” using it, worry was a greater factor than education about risk, and the greater the worry, the more likely the use. “Most health behavior studies don’t account for the more visceral, emotional reactions that lead people to do risky behaviors, like eat junk food or ignore the protective benefits of sunscreen,” says Marc Kiviniemi, MD, lead researcher and assistant professor of community health and health behavior in the UB School of Public Health and Health Professions. “This study is important because most of what we do in public health communications focuses on spreading knowledge and information. By not addressing emotions, we are potentially missing a rich influence on behavior when interventions do not address feelings.” Read more on cancer.

Jul 25 2014
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Public Health News Roundup: July 25

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United States, Mexico to Enhance Safety of Certain Agricultural Products
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Mexico’s National Service for Agro-Alimentary Public Health, Safety and Quality and Federal Commission for the Protection from Sanitary Risks have entered an agreement to form a partnership to improve and promote the safety of fresh and minimally processed agricultural products. Each year, Mexico exports approximately $4.6 billion in fresh vegetables; $3.1 billion in fresh fruit, excluding bananas; $1.9 billion in wine and beer; and $1.5 billion in snacks to the United States.

The preventive practices and verification measures will include:

  • Exchanging information to better understand each other’s produce safety systems
  • Developing effective culturally-specific education and outreach materials that support industry compliance with produce safety standards
  • Identifying common approaches for training auditors who will verify compliance with such standards
  • Enhancing collaboration on laboratory activities as well as outbreak response and traceback activities

“To be successful as regulators, the FDA must continue developing new strategies and partnerships that allow us to more comprehensively and collectively respond to the challenges that come with globalization,” said FDA Commissioner Margaret A. Hamburg, MD, in a release. “The FDA is working with our Mexican government counterparts as well as stakeholders from industry, commerce, agriculture, and academia to ensure the safety of products for American and Mexican consumers.” Read more on food safety.

JAMA: Health Experts Call for End on Blood Donation Ban for Gay and Bisexual MenEx
perts writing in the Journal of the American Medical Association have called for the repeal of a 30-year ban on blood donations from gay and bisexual men. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) instituted the ban for any man who had sex with another man in 1983, near the beginning of the AIDS crisis. Now, however, the experts said that technological and societal advances mean the ban should be lifted. "We think it's time for the FDA to take a serious look at its policy, because it's out of step with peer countries, it's out of step with modern medicine, it's out of step with public opinion, and we feel it may be legally problematic," said Glenn Cohen, who directs Harvard Law School's Petrie-Flom Center for Health Law Policy, Biotechnology & Bioethics, who co-wrote the article with Jeremy Feigenbaum of Harvard Law School and Eli Adashi, MD, of Brown University's medical school. They also noted that the ban is not in line with other FDA policies regarding people considered high-risk donors due to their sexual behavior. Read more on HIV/AIDS.

CDC Re-Opens Clinical TB Lab; Safety Reviews of Other Labs Continues
Less than two weeks after closing laboratories due to two serious lapses with anthrax and avian flu virus and an intensive review by its CDC’s internal Laboratory Safety Improvement Working Group, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has resumed the transfer of inactivated materials out of its high-containment Clinical Tuberculosis Laboratory. The moratorium on material transfers remains in effect for BSL-3 and BSL-4 laboratories, with those supporting direct patient care receiving priority review. The working group’s ongoing lab assessments focus on two main areas:

  • Each lab must demonstrate that its protocols for key control points—such as inactivation of a pathogen—are not only being used but that they are being used by appropriately trained and supervised individuals.
  • Each lab is expected to establish redundant controls, similar to the two-key system used in other contexts for critical control points. For example, in the TB lab when heat is used to kill a pathogen, a second trained lab technician will witness the process to make sure the right temperature is used for the right amount of time. Both individuals then sign off on the process.

There will also be unannounced safety inspections by internal auditors. Read more on infectious disease and research.