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Weekly digest: New study by researchers at the University of the Witwatersrand and CDDEP supports higher taxes on tobacco, alcohol and sugary beverages in South Africa

Weekly digest: New study by researchers at the University of the Witwatersrand and CDDEP supports higher taxes on tobacco, alcohol and sugary beverages in South Africa

Evidence supporting higher taxes on tobacco, alcohol and sugary beverages. Hiking taxes on tobacco, alcohol, junk foods and sugary beverages up to 60 percent in South Africa would lead to a gain of 858,923 life-years, write CDDEP researchers Amit Summan and Ramanan Laxminarayan, and colleagues at Wits in BMJ Global Health. The analysis further finds that an excise tax of up to twenty-five percent on beer would result in a gain of 568,063 life-years and a twenty percent tax on sugary beverages would save 688,719 life-years. The authors conclude that more aggressive excise tax policies on tobacco, beer and SSBs in South Africa could result in meaningful improvements in population health and raised revenue. [BMJ Global Health]

Most infection specialists do not prescribe shortest possible antibiotic course. The majority of infection specialists fail to advise prescribers to choose the shortest possible duration of antibiotic therapy for patients according to a study reported in the Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy. [Journal of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy]

Industry reports progress on drug resistance. The latest progress report from the AMR Industry Alliance finds that the private sector has invested over $2 billion in research and development of new products, including antibiotics, vaccines, and diagnostics.  However, many companies have noted that current research and development incentives are inadequate. According to the coalition of 100 life sciences companies, investments will likely dwindle if new incentives fail to materialize. The report concludes that more efforts are required to promote appropriate use of and access to antibiotics, and to reduce the environmental impacts of antibiotic manufacturing. [AMR Industry Alliance progress report]

Surfers more likely to harbor superbugs. Surfers are three times as likely as non-surfers to harbor antibiotic-resistant superbugs that could lead to serious, untreatable infections. Researchers took fecal samples from 273 people in the UK, half of whom were regular surfers. Testing the resistance of their gut bacteria to the antibiotic cefotaxime revealed that nine percent of surfers had an antibiotic-resistant form of E. coli bacteria, compared to three percent of non-surfers.  Surfers tend to swallow far more seawater than do swimmers. [Independent]

High levels of superbugs found in chicken in UK supermarkets. Britain’s Food Standards Agency has found high levels of superbugs in chicken meat sold in supermarkets. The agency tested a large sample of fresh whole chickens from retailers, and reported “significantly higher proportions” of antibiotic-resistant campylobacter in the last 10 years. [UK Food Standards Agency report]

Flu cases on the rise in the US. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said that all parts of the US are reporting widespread levels of the virus. However, it is too early to tell if this year’s flu season will prove more severe than those in recent years. The CDC warned that widespread flu is likely to persist for several weeks, with more infections caused by influenza B strains. [CDC update]

Sanofi to reimburse Philippine government for unused dengue vaccine. French pharmaceutical giant Sanofi Pasteur will pay P1.4 billion ($2.75 million) to the Philippine government for unused anti-dengue vaccines that remained after the government shelved its public vaccination program. [Manila Times]

Three new mosquito carriers for Zika identified. Zika virus has been found in three previously unreported mosquito species caught in the wild in Mexico, according to a study in Scientific Reports. Though Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes are the main vectors of the disease, this is the first time that researchers have found the virus present in salivary glands of wild-caught female Culex coronatorCulex tarsalis, and Aedes vexans mosquitoes. The Mexican scientists also isolated Zika virus in Aedes aegypti and Culex quinquefasciatus, both previously reported to be potential vectors. [Scientific Reports]

Study reveals more H1N1 deaths in those exposed to ’57 pandemic. New research in mBio reaffirms that people previously affected with a flu strain may be more susceptible to another pandemic viral strain if it differs greatly from the previous one. The researchers examined data for flu cases and mortality rates in the US and Mexico between October 1997 and July 2014.  During the 2009 H1N1 pandemic and during the resurgent 2013–2014 H1N1 outbreak, they found peaks in death rates in people from both countries who were 52 years old; those people had been born in 1957, when the H2N2 “Asian” flu pandemic occurred. [mBio]

Ebola vaccine proven effective in animal trials. A study in Scientific Reports on preclinical efficacy testing of a novel recombinant modified vaccinia Ankara (MVA)-based vaccine reports 100 percent protection against Ebola infection in guinea pigs after boost vaccination with the vaccine. In addition, the vaccine protected macaques after a single dose or prime/boost vaccination. [Scientific Reports]

Scientists unearth cause of 16th-century epidemic in Mexico. An epidemic of hemorrhagic fever that killed an estimated forty-five percent of the native population in Mexico in the 16th century may have been caused by a common food-borne illness, salmonella, according to a study in Nature Ecology & Evolution. These are results from DNA findings from 29 skeletons excavated from the ruins of an ancient city in the Oaxaca region. Europeans introduced novel infectious diseases to the New World during this “early contact” period.  [Nature Ecology & Evolution]