July 23, 1996
Nando.net and Reuter Information Service
TOKYO - Dainippon Pharmaceutical Co. said Monday it was recalling three imported drugs for the treatment of anemia and bronchitis due to the possibility that they contain fat extracted from cattle in Britain.
The company said it had begun collecting 400,000 pills of Fero Gradumet, a drug for the treatment of anemia, and 140,000 cylinders of Medihaler Iso and Medihaler D, for bronchitis.
Since April the Japanese Ministry of Health and Welfare has prohibited the manufacture or import of foods and drugs that use British cattle products. The ministry's guidance responded to the "mad cow" disease scare in Europe that followed indications that a bovine illness could be linked to a deadly human equivalent.
The drugs are manufactured by Abbott Laboratories Ltd. and 3M Health Care Ltd. and imported by Dainippon.
TOKYO (Jul 24, 1996 02:11 a.m. EDT) - Shocked by two more deaths from a food poisoning epidemic, Japan scrambled on Wednesday to contain the outbreak and accepted an offer of help from the United States. Prime Minister Ryutaro Hashimoto said he felt helpless in the face of the deaths from the O-157 colon bacteria, which has now killed seven people since the infection broke out in May.
"The deaths came in a row immediately after it looked as if the situation was improving," Hashimoto told reporters. "I feel helpless, that this might be the limit of modern medical expertise," Hashimoto said. A 10-year-old schoolgirl and an 85-year-old woman died from the bacteria on Tuesday. Hashimoto said the most important thing now was to identify the source and route of infection.
In the most serious outbreak, 96 children are in serious condition at hospitals in Sakai, near Osaka. Twenty-eight of them are in critical condition, including three in comas. More than 6,400 people, mostly schoolchildren, have come down with the germ in Sakai alone. The 13-day-old outbreak in Sakai was traced to school lunches prepared by city-run kitchens, but the tainted food carrying the bacteria has not been identified.
Except for one isolated case in which a nine-year-old boy became infected with the bacteria after eating raw cow's liver, a delicacy in Japan, experts have so far failed to pinpoint the origin of the infection. Earlier outbreaks of the bacteria elsewhere in Japan since May have stricken 2,000 people, killing five of them. The health and education ministries said they were preparing emergency measures to trace and contain the O-157 bacteria.
The Health Ministry planned to invoke a special clause in the Food Sanitation Law that would require all food firms to report in detail their sources of raw food, part of a measure that would help in tracing tainted food sources. A spokesman for the Health Ministry also said Japan would accept an offer of expert help from the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
"We must discuss details on how exactly the CDC will help us," the spokesman said. "Options include having them send us specialist doctors who will help out at national hospitals, or research personnel who will then advise their counterparts in Japan."
The Education Ministry on Wednesday also approved a crash research programme into the O-157 strain. Ministry officials said Dr Takeshi Honda of Osaka University, a germ specialist, will head an eight-member team to conduct a detailed study of the O-157 strain. Scientists are puzzled by the series of outbreaks. The particular strain, one of about 200 colon bacillus bacteria, is known and has been identified as often occurring in uncooked meat. But the O-157 strain had been considered too weak to sustain a major poisoning outbreak.
"Even to an amateur like me, this does not look like ordinary food poisoning," government spokesman Seiroku Kajiyama told a regular news conference on Wednesday. "We must ask researchers to get to the bottom of this infection." The Japanese media was critical of the government's slow response to what it called an epidemic of crisis proportions. "Among those in the government, there is simply no realisation that this, like last year's Kobe earthquake, is a major crisis," the Asahi Shimbun said in an opinion piece. "Sakai did not follow prefecture orders to change the school menu to cooked food. Sakai officials have said: 'We did not think the O-157 infection was this bad'," the column said. "They seriously lacked imagination."
AS a food poisoning epidemic spread across Japan, Ryutaro Hashimoto, the Prime Minister, declared a national emergency yesterday and pledged no effort would be spared to combat the outbreak.
In a statement on the epidemic, which has struck 8,230 people and killed seven, Mr Hashimoto said that the infection, caused by intestinal E. coli bacteria, was no longer confined to one region but threatened the health of everyone in the country.
"The food poisoning by the 0157 colon bacillus bacteria which started in May has now spread to the entire nation," the Prime Minister said. "I recognise that the 0157 food poisoning is a problem deeply related to the daily lives of the people and that it is now a national issue."
Mr Hashimoto pledged urgent action a day after a girl, aged ten, died in the town of Sakai, where more than 6,400 primary schoolchildren have been stricken in the past fortnight. By last night the number of seriously ill children with symptoms of haemolytic uraemic syn drome, a kidney-destroying disease caused by the food poisoning bacterium, rose to 96, up 22 from the previous day, Sakai city officials said.
The epidemic has claimed two other lives this week an 85-year-old man in Osaka and a 56-year-old man in Kyoto. These were the first deaths reported since four people died in the western city of Okayama last month. Mr Hashimoto vowed that every step would be taken to trace the route of the infection. Scientists are analysing hundreds of samples of lunches served in Sakai schools earlier this month to try to identify the source. Main suspects are cold noodles, raw cow's liver and undercooked hamburger.
The Prime Minister, who is to announce a detailed plan to tighten food inspection procedures tomorrow, urged the public to get medical treatment at the first sign of the unusual symptoms.
Japan has accepted an offer of help from the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention to fight the epidemic. The Atlanta-based institution helped to eradicate an 0157 outbreak in 1993 which killed four children in the American Midwest.