Infectious Disease News Briefs: August 22, 2023


Novavax updates its COVID-19 vaccine, locally acquired malaria is reported in Maryland, deadly listeria outbreak is linked to milkshakes, and vibriosis in the northeast.

The following are the latest news updates:

Novavax Updates COVID-19 Vaccine Protection

The company announced today its updated protein-based XBB COVID vaccine candidate induced neutralizing antibody responses to the EG51 and XBB1166 subvariants in small animal and non-human primate studies. XBB sublineage variants are overwhelmingly responsible for the majority of current COVID cases in the US and European Union. These subvariants are part of the Omicron ancestry.

"Our data have shown that Novavax's protein-based COVID vaccine induces broadly neutralizing responses against XBB subvariants, including EG51 and XBB1166," Filip Dubovsky, president of Research and Development, Novavax, said in a statement. "We have a lot of confidence in our updated COVID vaccine and are working diligently with global regulatory bodies to ensure our protein-based vaccine is available this fall."

According to the company, non-clinical data previously showed that Novavax's COVID vaccine candidate induced functional immune responses for XBB15, XBB116 and XBB23 variants, indicating a broad response that could potentially be applicable for forward-drift variants. Novavax is in the process of submitting applications for its XBB5 COVID vaccine candidate to regulatory authorities globally.

Locally Acquired Case of Malaria Reported in Maryland

The Maryland Department of Health has confirmed and reported a positive case of locally acquired malaria in a Maryland resident who lives in the National Capital Region. The individual was hospitalized and is now recovering. They did not travel recently outside of the United States or to other states with recent locally acquired malaria cases.

“Malaria was once common in the United States, including in Maryland, but we have not seen a case in Maryland that was not related to travel in over 40 years,” Maryland Department of Health Secretary Laura Herrera Scott, said in a statement. “We are taking this very seriously and will work with local and federal health officials to investigate this case.”

Listeria Linked to 3 Deaths and 6 Hospitalizations in Washington State Restaurant

Washington State health officials are reporting that listeria bacteria found in all milkshake flavors sold at Frugals restaurant Tacoma, WA associated with a foodborne listeriosis outbreak linked to 6 hospitalizations and 3 deaths. Investigators found Listeria in the ice cream machines, which were not cleaned correctly.

Officials say no other Frugals restaurants are believed to be affected. The restaurant stopped using its ice cream machines on August 8, but Listeria can sicken people up to 70 days later. Most people who eat food contaminated with Listeria will not get seriously sick, but people who are pregnant, aged 65 or older, and those with weakened immune systems should call their health care provider if they ate a Frugals’ Tacoma milkshake between May 29 and August 7, 2023 and have Listeria symptoms.

Genetic fingerprinting of bacteria in the milkshakes shows it’s the same strain of Listeria that hospitalized six people between Feb. 27 and July 22 (five people in Pierce County and one person in Thurston County). All six people had conditions that made their immune systems less able to fight disease. Three of the 6 people hospitalized died. Two people who were hospitalized, but did not die, said they ate Frugals’ Tacoma milkshakes before getting sick.

Deadly Vibriosis Cases in Northeast

Last week, New York State Governor Kathy Hochul announced that vibriosis, a rare but potentially fatal bacterial infection that can cause skin breakdown and ulcers, has been identified in a recently deceased person from Suffolk County.

“While rare, the vibrio bacteria has unfortunately made it to this region and can be extraordinarily dangerous,” Governor Hochul said“As we investigate further, it is critical that all New Yorkers stay vigilant and take responsible precautions to keep themselves and their loved ones safe, including protecting open wounds from seawater and for those with compromised immune systems, avoiding raw or undercooked shellfish which may carry the bacteria.”

The death in Suffolk County is still being investigated to determine if the bacteria was encountered in New York waters or elsewhere. In the meantime, the New York State Department of Health reminded health care providers to consider vibrio vulnificus when seeing individuals with severe wound infections or sepsis with or without wound infections.

“We are reminding providers to be on the lookout for cases of vibriosis, which is not often the first diagnosis that comes to mind. We are also suggesting to New Yorkers that if you have wounds, you should avoid swimming in warm seawater," New York State Health Commissioner James McDonald, MD, MPH said. "And, if you have a compromised immune system, you should also avoid handling or eating raw seafood that could also carry the bacteria.”

To help prevent vibriosis, people with a wound, such as a cut or scrape, a recent piercing or tattoo, should avoid exposing skin to warm seawater in coastal environments or cover the wound with a waterproof bandage. In addition, those with compromised immune systems should avoid eating raw or undercooked shellfish, such as oysters, which can carry the bacteria. Wear gloves when handling raw shellfish and thoroughly wash your hands with soap and water when finished.

In Connecticut, state officials have reported that since July 1, 3 cases of vibriosis infections have been reported to the Connecticut Department of Health (DPH). The 3 patients were between 60-80 years of age, and all were hospitalized.

Two of the three vibriosis infections reported to DPH were wound infections not associated with seafood. Two patients reported exposure to salt or brackish water in Long Island Sound. Both patients had pre-existing open cuts or wounds or sustained new wounds during these activities which likely led to the infections. The third infection was a Connecticut resident that consumed raw oysters not harvested from Long Island Sound at an out-of-state establishment. Two of these people have died.

“People should consider the potential risk of consuming raw oysters and exposure to salt or brackish water and take appropriate precautions,” said DPH Commissioner Manisha Juthani, MD. “Particularly during the hottest months of the summer, bacteria are more likely to overgrow and contaminate raw shellfish. Given our current heat wave, this may be a time to exercise particular caution in what you consume.”

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