With recalls and outbreaks buzzing in news headlines so frequently, it is no a surprise that food-borne illnesses remain a significant public health concern in the United States. Although diagnosis of these infections and response time to control outbreaks has improved, more work still needs to be done to prevent these illnesses from happening in the first place.
In the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)’s most recent Morbidity and Mortality Report
(MMWR), the public is offered a glimpse of preliminary data pertaining to food-borne illnesses in 2016—where we were, what’s working, where the gaps in information are, and what’s being done to make the country’s food supply safer.
The CDC’s Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network, commonly referred to as FoodNet
, collected data from 15% of the US population, and that information is shared in the FoodNet report in the MMWR
, providing the public with the “most up-to-date information about food-borne illnesses” in the country. In 2016, FoodNet sites reported a staggering 24,029 food-borne infections, 5,512 related hospitalizations, and 98 related deaths.
Which germs caused the most illness last year?
According to the preliminary data, Campylobacter
(which was responsible for 8,547 infections) and Salmonella
(8,172 infections) made the top of the list. Other germs that made the list were: Shigella
(2,913 infections), Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli
(1,845 infections), Cryptosporidium
(1,816 infections), Yersinia
(302 infections), Vibrio
(252 infections), Listeria
(127 infections), and Cyclospora
Even though overall, Salmonella
infections were high, compared with the average infections for 2013-2015, Salmonella
Typhimurium infections decreased by 18%. The CDC postulates that regulatory action
taken to “reduce Salmonella
contamination in poultry and vaccination of chicken flocks by producers” might be responsible for the decrease.
In contrast, 2016 saw an increase in other infections, such as Yersinia
, and Shiga toxin-producing E. coli
. The CDC suggests that this might not be a “true increase in illness,” however. Rather, the increase could be due to “newly-available” rapid diagnostic tests that make it significantly easier to diagnose such infections.
In fact, the CDC notes that this is the first time that food-borne infections diagnosed using only rapid diagnostic tests have been included in the total number of cases in FoodNet sites. In the past, only food-borne infections that had been confirmed by “traditional culture-based methods” were included in the total number of cases.
The data shows that testing techniques are shifting; rapid tests, or culture-independent diagnostic tests (CIDTs) are being used more frequently. This may be due to the fact that these tests can provide a fast diagnosis, which can lead to faster treatment. However, the tests do not provide detailed data on whether the pathogen is resistant to antibiotics or if it is a part of a larger, growing outbreak. CDC researchers point out that using these tests, without following up with cultures can result in an information gap.
“We need food-borne illness trend data to monitor progress toward making our food supply safer,” Robert Tauxe, MD, MPH, director of CDC’s Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases said in a press release. “It’s important that laboratories continue to do follow-up cultures on CIDT-positive patients so public health officials can get the information needed to protect people from food-borne illness.”