Q&A on computer network that warned of salmonella
Source of Article: http://www.google.com/hostednews/ap/article/ALeqM5gIbp3cLGwKFfezD8nhX6cp9QXbSwD967UVVO0
ATLANTA (AP) —
Q: What is PulseNet?
A: It's a national network of public health labs coordinated by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. When state and local health officials get lab results of people sick with food poisoning, they post information about cases on the WebBoard, the PulseNet listserv. State and national health officials use this information to look for patterns.
PulseNet gets its name from a lab technology called pulsed-field gel electrophoresis, which enables investigators to do DNA "fingerprinting" of the infection bacteria and its strain subtype.
It's somewhat like an FBI database that can compare fingerprints from an
arrest record in
Q: How comprehensive is it?
A: This network can't catalog every case in an outbreak. Only some people who get sick go to doctors, and not all doctors run tests to confirm what infection the patient has. Health officials estimate that the actual number of illnesses in an outbreak may be 10 times higher than the lab network reports.
But by detecting an outbreak while it's still going on and then identifying the food that's spreading it, health officials believe they can prevent countless illnesses and some deaths.
Other countries have similar systems. The CDC routinely shares data with
Q: How long does it take to identify a foodborne germ?
A: It generally takes two to four weeks from the time the first person in a cluster gets ill until the cluster is detected by PulseNet. In the case of the peanut butter outbreak, CDC first detected a national pattern in November, the month after substantial numbers of lab-tested illnesses first emerged.
CDC officials did not disclose the outbreak until January. They said it
took more than a month for health officials to interview sick patients to
determine that peanut butter was the food they all had in common. Then, a
test from a peanut butter container in
Q: Can't this process be sped up?
A: The PulseNet system itself is relatively rapid. But investigation timelines are driven by what patients and doctors do about illnesses, and how quickly health officials in individual states react.
"The PulseNet system is a great system. The
problem is it's a 22nd century system resting on pillars of epidemiologic
research that go back to the 1800s," said Bill Marler,
Such limitations may explain why
Q: How long has this network been in place?
A: PulseNet was launched in 1996, but didn't have the participation of all states until 2002. The cost is shared by the CDC and states. CDC says it spends about $5.6 million annually, but has no figure for what states spend.
The origin of the system lies with a 1993 outbreak of E. coli food
poisoning in the western
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