The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 76 million foodborne illness cases occur in the United States every year. This amounts to one in four Americans becoming ill after eating foods contaminated with such pathogens as E. coli O157:H7, Salmonella, Hepatitis A, Campylobacter, Shigella, Norovirus, and Listeria.  On an annual basis, approximately 325,000 people are hospitalized with a diagnosis of food poisoning, and 5,000 die.

While most foodborne illness cases go unreported to health departments, nearly 13.8 million food poisoning cases are caused by known agents—30% by bacteria, 67% by viruses, and 3% by parasites (Mead, et al., 1999).  Now an article in Clinical Infectious Disease this month explains why so few cases get reported – Emergency care physicians’ knowledge, attitudes, and practices related to surveillance for foodborne disease in the United States

The article suggests:

• Because public health surveillance for bacterial foodborne diseases fundamentally depends on stool cultures, we conducted a survey of physicians who attended an emergency medicine conference to describe knowledge, attitudes, and practices among this provider population.

• Thirty-eight percent reported having ordered a stool culture for the most recent patient with acute diarrheal illness examined in the emergency department, but only 26% of the physicians subsequently received the stool culture results.

• For only 2 pathogens (Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Salmonella species) did at least one-half of the respondents provide the correct response regarding whether selected diarrheal disease pathogens were reportable in their state.