According to a recent analysis, some citizens of the United States may be more susceptible to contracting a food-borne illness than others. Certain states across the country have demonstrated a propensity for negligence when identifying clusters of illness and responding to outbreaks. Varying degrees of state regulation may place residents of the worst-preforming states at an increased risk of experiencing such an event while undermining national outbreak surveillance at the same time. As a result, large portions of the country remain prone to food-borne illness outbreaks because of inconsistent reporting regulations.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), listeria, salmonella and E. coli have been responsible for at least 12 multi-state outbreaks this year. Each of which have demonstrated fatal circumstances. However, salmonella remains the overwhelming contributer to this growing concern, accounting for nearly 60 percent of the multi-state outbreaks that have been reported in the last five years. According to health care officials, these problems could have been avoided if the appropriate preventive measures were taken.
The influx of contaminated food outbreaks is believed to be the result of inadequate state regulations that are unable to identify potentially deadly outbreaks. Therefore, health officials are unable to find the cause and recall the contaminated product before it is too late. States with inadequate reporting practices may fail to recognize the problem and neglect to report it in a timely fashion. Subsequently, those locations may serve as the catalyst for a multi-state outbreak.
According to health officials, the response time in which food-borne illnesses are reported is critical to prevention. However, there are currently 10 states in the U.S. that allow one week to pass before they report a case of listeria to the health department. Florida is the only state that requires immediate reporting of listeria, while the others fall somewhere in between, with 16 requiring health departments to be notified within one day.
By law, every state is required to report cases of salmonella. However, the District of Colombia, along with 12 other states, does not require the submission of a stool sample to the public health laboratory. A seemingly optimal approach to identifying the source of an outbreak. Practicing stool sample submission can prove vital in the tracking and prevention of dangerous outbreaks. However, the absence of this practice leaves many states vulnerable to food-borne illness outbreaks.
Weaknesses of the outbreak reporting regulations were exposed in 2008 in when 43 states were affected by one of the biggest outbreaks in American history. Neglectful reporting practices, regarding salmonella-tainted jalapeno and serrano peppers, were responsible for the hospitalization of 308 people across the nation and the deaths of two Texas men. Subsequently, 1,500 others became sick enough to seek medical attention.
According to a recent analysis, the inadequate reporting practices in Texas proved to be a significant handicap in their ability to identify clusters of illness and respond to outbreaks. The outbreak metastasized across the country as Texas spent the first couple of weeks investigating data from insufficient reports. By June 2, 2008, Texas harbored the most salmonella cases in the country. Accordingly, Texas demonstrated a gross neglect for public safety by not reporting the cases in an efficient manor.
Minnesota, on the other hand, took half the time that Texas did when responding to the outbreak threat. By responding to the problem in an efficient manor and practicing strict regulations, Minnesota had unequivocally implicated the jalapenos. A trend that officials at the CDC would welcome in the future. Accordingly, state health officials are discussing how to include mandatory specimen submission for salmonella in Texas’ disease reporting requirements. Requiring stricter reporting regulations will help ensure fewer outbreaks of the magnitude witnessed in Texas.
States lacking efficient response and surveillance mechanisms are more susceptible to food-borne outbreaks. However, many continue to neglect to update their inadequate reporting practices. Subsequently, the risk of a sizable outbreak remains imminent in states where reporting practices are insufficient.
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