Foodborne Illness Still a Problem in the US

Salmonella infections down but Vibrio illnesses up in new study of foodborne pathogens by CDC

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) You expect food to nourish you, not to make you ill. But foodborne illness remains a problem in the US, as a new study has shown.

This new study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) looked at preliminary data for 2013 to examine trends in these illnesses during the last year.

The study found that rates of foodborne illness in the US largely stayed stable in 2013, but while Salmonella infections decreased, illnesses caused by the bacteria Vibrio saw a big jump.

"Wash fruits and veggies completely before eating."

According to the authors of this study, which was led by Stacy M. Crim, MPH, of the CDC's National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, foodborne illness is an important issue, and most of the infections caused by foodborne pathogens (microbes that can cause illness) are preventable.

To examine these illnesses in the US, Crim and team used data from the Foodborne Diseases Active Surveillance Network (FoodNet) — a collaboration from the CDC and a number of state and national governmental departments. FoodNet tracks cases of foodborne illness caused by nine common pathogens reported at 10 sites across the US.

The researchers analyzed preliminary FoodNet data from 2013 and compared it to data from previous years since 2006 to get a general picture of the current state of foodborne illnesses in the US.

During 2013, Crim and team found that 19,056 cases of foodborne illness were reported, causing 4,200 hospitalizations and 80 deaths. For six out of the nine pathogens examined, children under the age of 5 had the highest rates of illnesses.

Compared to the data from recent years, the overall rate of foodborne illness was largely stable. However, in terms of specific pathogens, some differences were seen.

Salmonella infections, the most common type of foodborne illness, saw a 9 percent drop in 2013 from the rates seen in the most recent years, 2010 to 2012. According to CDC, Salmonella is often transmitted through foods with an animal origin, like meat, milk or eggs, but any food can become contaminated with the bacteria. The bacteria usually cause symptoms like diarrhea, fever and stomach cramps.

Though the Salmonella situation seemed to improve, the same was not true for Vibrio. Infections from this pathogen increased significantly — up 32 percent in 2013 as compared to 2010 to 2012. According to CDC, Vibrio bacteria are usually transmitted through raw or undercooked seafood. Vibrio can cause symptoms like diarrhea and vomiting, sometimes leading to severe infections.

It is important to note that despite the large increase in Vibrio infections, it was still one of the least common pathogens tracked with FoodNet. For example, the estimated rate of Salmonella illnesses in 2013 was 15.19 infections per 100,000 people. The estimated rate of Vibrio illnesses was 0.51 infections per 100,000 people.

This study does not represent a complete picture of all cases of foodborne illness in the US, but rather provides an overview of specific, common pathogens by examining the 10 sites reporting to FoodNet. Further research is needed to confirm these findings.

"More can be done; surveillance data provide information on where to target prevention efforts," Crim and team wrote.

This study was published April 17 in CDC's Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. No conflicts of interest were reported.

Review Date: 
April 17, 2014
Last Updated:
April 21, 2014