WEDNESDAY, Dec. 15 (HealthDay News) -- Each year in the United
States some 48 million people, or one in every six Americans, are
sickened by the food they eat, according to two federal health
reports issued Wednesday.
Of those who get sick, about 128,000 are hospitalized and 3,000
die annually, and many of the deaths and hospitalizations are due
to salmonella, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC) reports. It was salmonella that led to the massive recall
earlier this year of millions of suspect eggs.
The number of people reported as affected by foodborne illness
has dipped from previous years, the CDC said, but that's mostly due
to improvement in the quality and quantity of the data used and new
methods used to estimate foodborne disease.
The bottom line is that "these illnesses are associated with
billions in health care costs, and have a substantial human cost in
severe illnesses and, in some cases, long-term health effects," Dr.
Chris Braden, acting director of CDC's Division of Foodborne,
Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases said during a morning press
"These are preventable diseases," he said. "For many of these diseases we know what interventions work to prevent them and we need to do more to lower the impact of these diseases in the United States."
Of the 48 million annual illnesses, 9.4 million result from 31
known foodborne pathogens. The other 38 million illnesses are from
unspecified pathogens, which include known diseases, but without
enough data for accurate estimates. These include pathogens not yet
known to cause foodborne illness and pathogens not yet discovered,
"If we could reduce foodborne illnesses by just 1 percent we could keep 500,000 people each year from getting sick from the foods that they eat," he noted.
Other key findings in the two reports:
The two reports are published in the Dec. 15 online edition of
the CDC's journal
Emerging Infectious Diseases, and update the last report on foodborne illness issued in 1999.
The new estimates of deaths and hospitalizations are lower than
in the 1999 report, probably because the amount and quality of data
has improved and experts now have better methods to gauge foodborne
disease, Braden said.
He noted that data from CDC's FoodNet surveillance system, which
tracks trends of common foodborne pathogens, has shown a 20 percent
decrease in illnesses from key pathogens during the past 10 years.
However, the FoodNet pathogens account for only a small number of
the illnesses included in the new estimates, Braden added.
For these and other reasons, one cannot compare the 1999 report
with the new reports or FoodNet data to really determine whether or
not there is more or less foodborne illness today than 10 years
ago, or what pathogens are involved in all cases, he said.
Commenting on the reports, infectious disease expert Dr. Marc
Siegel, associate professor of medicine at New York University in
New York City, said that "it's important that most of foodborne
illness is due to norovirus. That's what a lot of us believed and
it's one of the reasons we don't put people on antibiotics when
they come in with diarrhea or vomiting -- because there is no
treatment for norovirus."
In addition, because so many illnesses are being caused by
unidentified pathogens, "that really ramps up the need for better
scrutiny, better surveillance and better prevention techniques and
better screening tests for pathogens," he said.
Many of these food outbreaks are due to sloppiness in food
processing, Siegel said.
"I'm not a big government guy, but there could be stronger standards," he said. "These articles identify what is just an awful problem in the United States, which is foodborne illness."
For more information on foodborne illness, visit the
U.S. Centers for Disease Control and
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