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When Eating Healthy Makes You Sick: the 2018 E.Coli Outbreak

In April 2018, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) announced an ongoing investigation of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O157:H7 infections (E.coli). According to CDC records, the investigation resulted in 172 cases diagnosed across 32 states, resulting in 75 hospitalizations, 20 kidney failures, and 1 death. This was the worst foodborne outbreak to happen in the United States since the baby-spinach E.coli outbreak in 2006.

E.coli bacteria are found in many places – the environment, foods, intestines of both animals and people. Most of these bacteria are harmless, while others can make humans sick. One of the set that makes us sick creates a toxin called Shiga toxin. You might even call these the celebrity bacteria:  these Shiga toxin-producing E.coli bacteria are almost always the one making headline news as part of outbreaks. The Shiga toxin causes gastrointestinal issues but not usually a fever. Most people recover within a week or so. Sometimes, people experience kidney-related complications.

While the immediate danger of the recent E.coli outbreak has passed, food-borne illnesses remain an on-going problem for public health departments.  The CDC estimates that 48 million people get sick, 128,000 people are hospitalized and 3,000 people die as a result of foodborne illness every year in the United States. Outbreak detection becomes increasingly critical for health departments. The challenges lie in inadequate reporting and diagnoses.  Ensuring that your surveillance system is easy to access and easy to use is key to ensuring that outbreaks are contained as quickly as possible.

Our Maven system is the perfect outbreak detection tool for foodborne illness.  The flexible and dynamic system equips health departments with one system that includes:

  • Public portal for citizen and physician reporting of foodborne illness
  • Public survey tools to encourage those who may have been exposed to provide symptom and exposure data
  • Internal portal for in-depth data collection and analysis
  • Decision-making tools and advanced analytics for earlier outbreak detection
  • Configurable system that can even be used for restaurant inspection and certification

When data can be linked – such as restaurant inspection and violation data being linked to real-time foodborne illness and potential outbreak data – patterns emerge providing better actionable data that leads to earlier identification and containment of a potential outbreak.  The Maven system is highly configurable, allowing the health department to customize data specific to the type of foodborne illness and create ad hoc reports that do not require coding.

Contact Conduent Public Health Solutions today to see a demonstration of Maven in action.

About the Author

Pamela Knight-Schwartz, MPH is the Director of Public Health Consulting at Conduent Public Health Solutions. She has more than 15 years of experience in public health informatics, working in immunization information systems, disease surveillance systems, and prescription drug monitoring programs in corporate and government environments.

Profile Photo of Pamela Knight-Schwartz, MPH