Norovirus Illness is Messy – Clean Up Right Away

Hand in pink protective glove wiping tiles with rag in the bathroom.

When norovirus strikes in your own home, you can be prepared by having the supplies you need to immediately clean up after a loved one vomits or has diarrhea.

Norovirus is a tiny germ that spreads quickly and easily. It causes vomiting and diarrhea that come on suddenly. A very small amount of norovirus can make you sick. The number of virus particles that fit on the head of a pin is enough to infect over 1,000 people.

You can get norovirus if poop or vomit from an infected person gets into your mouth. You can get it by:

  • Caring for a person who is infected with norovirus and then touching your hands to your mouth
  • Eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus
  • Touching surfaces or objects with norovirus on them and then putting your hands in your mouth

Clean up the splatter!

Vomiting and diarrhea are messy, especially with norovirus. If you get sick from norovirus, drops of vomit or poop might splatter for many feet in all directions.

It’s extremely important to clean up the entire area immediately after you or someone else vomits or has diarrhea. You must be very thorough so you don’t miss any drops of vomit or poop that you can’t see.

If you find yourself in this situation, follow these steps from start to finish to protect other people from getting sick with norovirus:

Step 1 – Put on disposable plastic gloves and a face maskNorovirus spreads when a person gets poop or vomit from an infected person in their mouth.

Step 2 – Wipe up vomit and poop with paper towels and throw them away

Step 3 – Clean all surfaces thoroughly with a bleach cleaner, or make your own solution (¾ cup of bleach plus 1 gallon of water)

Step 4 – Clean all surfaces again with hot water and soap

Step 5 – Remove your gloves, throw them away, and take out the trash

Step 6 – Wash all laundry that may have vomit or poop on them with hot water and soap

Step 7 – Wash your hands with soap and water

Thorough clean up helps prevent norovirus outbreaks

Cleaning-up immediately after someone with norovirus vomits or has diarrhea protects others from getting sick, and prevents norovirus outbreaks. It’s important for everyone to know the clean-up steps and other ways to prevent norovirus.

CDC and state and local health departments help to raise awareness among healthcare providers and the general public about norovirus and how to prevent it. Learn more about how health departments, CDC, and other agencies work to prevent and stop norovirus outbreaks.

To learn more about norovirus, see CDC’s norovirus website and infographics, videos, and other resources, and state and local health department websites.

Hurricane preparation and response resource list

Hurricane preparation and response resource list |

Updated September 15, 2017

In the wake of hurricanes Harvey and Irma, public health laboratories in affected regions will be busy testing for potential environmental contamination, monitoring for increased water- and mosquito-borne diseases, or repairing damage to their own facilities. APHL has activated its Incident Command System (ICS) to support member laboratories with their response. The ICS team is participating in CDC’s Emergency Operations Center (EOC) State/Local and Partner Conference Calls, and will assist member labs with their response, facilitate communications between CDC and member labs, and share lab needs/stories with policy makers and the public.

Below are helpful resources for those communities hit by the recent storms. Many of these resources are useful for any severe weather event, not just Hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

Preparing for and weathering the storm

Hurricanes, Preparation and Response, EPA
Hurricane Preparedness Checklist, FDA
Preparing for a Hurricane or Tropical Storm, CDC
Flooding Toolkit, National Public Health Information Coalition
Disaster, US government platform for locating disaster-related resources
Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Toll-free FEMA hotline for survivors of Hurricane Harvey: 1-800-621-FEMA

Keeping your family and community healthy after the storm

Food Safety:
Food Safety Tips for Areas Affected by Hurricane Irma, USDA press release
Protect Food and Water Before, During and After a Storm, FDA

Infectious Diseases:
Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, CDC
Vector-borne Diseases, CDC​​​​​​​
Waterborne Disease Prevention, CDC

Drinking Water:
Drinking Water Safety and Testing Information for Texas, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (accredited labs for microbial testing of drinking water, advice for customers of public water systems, disinfecting your well, etc.)
Drinking Water Testing and Information for Houston, TX, City of Houston
Private Wells: What to Do after the Flood, EPA
Private Wells: Water-related Diseases and Contaminants, CDC
Health Department Laboratory, Drinking Water Testing and Information, City of Houston

Carbon Monoxide Poisoning – Clinical Guidance, CDC
Mold: Cleanup and Remediation, CDC
Mold: Flood Cleanup, EPA
Waste Management, EPA

Rebuilding and repair

Cleanup after a Hurricane, CDC
Status of Systems in Areas Affected by Harvey, Texas Commission on Environmental Quality – drinking water, waste water and sewage, residential wells, flood waters, water infrastructure

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Prepare to be patriotic!

Young blonde boy carrying an American Flag over a wooden Bridge.

The 4th of July is a day to celebrate Uncle Sam, enjoy the summer weather, and spend time with family and friends. Keep these five things in mind as you plan your 4th of July celebration.

Prevent fireworks injuries

Fireworks can cause death and injury, including burns, cuts, bruises, and foreign objects in your eyes.

  • Never allow young children to play with or ignite fireworks.
  • Always have an adult supervise fireworks activities.
  • Avoid buying fireworks packaged in brown paper, which often means they were made for professional displays and could be dangerous for consumers.
  • Make sure you and your family watch fireworks displays from a safe distance.
  • Call 911 immediately if someone is injured from fireworks.

Beat the heat

In hot temperatures your body may be unable to properly cool itself. This could lead to serious health problems.

  • Drink plenty of fluids, regardless of your activity level. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. Warning: If your doctor generally limits the amount of fluid you drink or has you on water pills, ask how much you should drink while the weather is hot.
  • Don’t drink liquids that contain alcohol or large amounts of sugar–these actually cause you to lose more body fluid. Also, avoid very cold drinks, because they can cause stomach cramps.
  • Protect yourself from the sun by wearing a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses. Wear lightweight, light-colored, loose-fitting clothing.
  • Put on sunscreen of SPF 15 or higher – the most effective products say “broad spectrum” or “UVA/UVB protection” on their labels.
  • Stay in the shade!

Don’t let a stomach bug slow you down

The summer months typically see a spike in reports of foodborne illness. Keep the food safe at your 4th of July picnic or BBQ.

  • Use separate plates and utensils for raw and cooked meat and poultry and ready to eat foods, like raw fruits and vegetables.
  • Use a food thermometer to make sure meat and poultry are cooked hot enough to kill harmful germs.
  • Don’t leave food at room temperature for longer than two hours – one hour if the outside temperature is over 90 degrees. Keep perishable food in an insulated cooler packed with ice or ice packs.

Prepare to take the plunge

Drowning is responsible for more deaths among children 1 to 4 years old than any other cause except birth defects.

  • Designate a responsible adult to watch all children swimming or playing in or around water. Drowning occurs quickly and quietly, so adults should not be involved in any other distracting activity while supervising children.
  • Teach kids to swim. Formal swimming lessons can protect young children from drowning.
  • Always swim with a buddy. Whenever possible choose swimming sites that have lifeguards.
  • Avoid drinking alcohol before or during swimming, boating, or water skiing. Do not drink alcohol while supervising children.
  • Know the local weather conditions and forecast before swimming or boating. Strong winds and thunderstorms with lightning strikes are dangerous.

Fight the bite

Bugs, including mosquitoes, ticks, and some flies can spread diseases like Zika, dengue, and Lyme disease.

  • Use EPA-registered insect repellents that contain at least 20% DEET for protection against mosquitoes, ticks, and other bugs.
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts, long pants, socks, and a hat. Tuck your shirt into your pants, and tuck your pants into your socks for maximum protection.
  • Check yourself and your children for ticks. Ticks are easy to remove.

You can find more tips for a safe and healthy summer on the CDC website. Happy 4th of July!

Tips to Protect Yourself from Norovirus

Woman Stomach Ache

If you have never been sick with norovirus, chances are you will. In fact, norovirus is so common that most people will get sick with it several times during their life.

The symptoms of norovirus can be miserable and include diarrhea, throwing up, nausea, and stomach pain. Most people who get sick with the virus get better within 1 to 3 days, but it can lead to dehydration or more serious illness, especially in young children and older adults.

Every year, 19 to 21 million people get sick with diarrhea and vomiting caused by norovirus. Norovirus season in the United States peaks in the winter months, although you can get sick at any time during the year.

You can get sick with norovirus by having contact with a sick person, eating food or drinking liquids that are contaminated with norovirus, or touching surfaces or objects contaminated with norovirus then putting your fingers in your mouth.

Norovirus spreads quickly, especially in places like daycare centers, nursing homes, schools, and cruise ships.  A tiny amount of the virus on your food or hands is enough to make you sick.

Currently there’s no vaccine to prevent getting sick from norovirus. However, there are some steps you can take to help protect yourself and others:

  1. Wash your hands carefully with soap and water

Wash your hands carefully with soap and water—

  • especially after using the toilet and changing diapers, and
  • always before eating, preparing, or handling food.

Noroviruses can be found in your vomit or stool even before you start feeling sick. The virus can stay in your stool for 2 weeks or more after you feel better. So, it is important to continue washing your hands often during this time.

Alcohol-based hand sanitizers can be used in addition to hand washing. However, they should not be used as a substitute for washing with soap and water.

  1. When you are sick, do not prepare food or care for othersnorovirus_a580px

You should not prepare food for others or provide care while you are sick and for at least two days after symptoms stop. This also applies to sick workers in settings such as schools and daycares where they may expose people to norovirus.

  1. Clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces

After throwing up or having diarrhea, immediately clean and disinfect contaminated surfaces using an appropriate disinfectant. Learn how to make a bleach solution that can kill norovirus.

  1. Wash fruits and vegetables, and cook seafood thoroughly

Carefully wash fruits and vegetables before preparing and eating them. Cook oysters and other shellfish thoroughly before eating them. Norovirus can survive temperatures as high as 140°F and quick steaming processes that are often used for cooking shellfish. Food that might be contaminated with norovirus should be thrown out.

  1. Wash laundry thoroughly

Immediately remove and wash clothes or linens that may be contaminated with vomit or stool. You should

  • handle soiled items carefully without agitating them,
  • wear rubber or disposable gloves while handling soiled items and wash your hands after, and
  • wash the items with detergent at the maximum available cycle length then machine dry them.

Following these steps can help protect you and other people from norovirus this season.

Learn More


PulseNet key to solving 2010 E. coli outbreak linked to lettuce

PulseNet key to solving 2010 E. coli outbreak linked to lettuce |

by Kim Krisberg

On April 22, 2010, federal public health officials notified the New York State Department of Health of two E. coli clusters at colleges in Michigan and Ohio. The very next day, the New York agency got word of an illness cluster in its own state with symptoms similar to the neighboring outbreaks.

Fortunately, that initial notification came via PulseNet, the national molecular subtyping network for foodborne disease surveillance, which allows public health scientists and investigators to rapidly identify foodborne illness outbreaks. That meant staff at the New York State public health laboratory, officially known as the Wadsworth Center, had easy access to Michigan’s and Ohio’s laboratory findings, which allowed immediate testing to begin to discover whether the New York illnesses were connected to the larger outbreak. Just a handful of days later, the New York lab had an answer — DNA fingerprints from patient specimens in Michigan, Ohio and New York were a match. The E. coli O145 outbreak had spread to New York.

“It was invaluable for us,” said Madhu Anand, DrPH, deputy director of the Regional Epidemiology and Investigations Program in the department’s Bureau of Communicable Disease Control, of PulseNet, which celebrated its 20th anniversary last year. “PulseNet was critical at every stage of this investigation.”

Just a few days following identification of the initial New York illness cluster, which occurred at a college in western New York, public health staff got word about a cluster of hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS) illnesses in a school district just north of New York City. HUS is a potentially life-threatening complication associated with Shiga toxin-producing E. coli infection. Public health workers began active surveillance in the district, Anand said, finding multiple cases that matched the profile of cases connected to the E. coli outbreak.

Around this same time, CDC announced that epidemiologic and traceback investigations in Michigan and Ohio pointed to shredded romaine lettuce from a single distributor as the culprit. In response, the New York State Department of Health worked with local public health to collect any leftover lettuce from the college. The college didn’t have any leftovers, said David Nicholas, MPH, research scientist and epidemiologist in the state’s Bureau of Community Environmental Health and Food Protection, but it did have an invoice, which showed the same distributor identified in Ohio and Michigan. Public health staff also sought out lettuce leftovers in the affected school district, and they found plenty.

On April 28, 2010, the Wadsworth Center received more than 150 pounds of shredded lettuce from the school district — or what Nicholas described as a “Honda full of lettuce.” Lab staff got to work testing portions of the entire lot, which were divided into two-pound bags, reported Nellie Dumas, associate director of the Wadsworth Center’s Bacteriology Laboratory. However, one of the two-pound bags was stamped with an expiration date indicating it could have been among the same batch of shredded lettuce that the sickened children had eaten. That expiration date led lab staff to test the entire two pounds of lettuce, Dumas said.

In testing that particular bag of lettuce, laboratorians were able to isolate E. coli O145, which was then tested by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) to obtain a DNA fingerprint. The DNA fingerprint matched the outbreak strains identified in Ohio and Michigan. The Wadsworth findings were then uploaded to PulseNet, helping to confirm that shredded lettuce was indeed the source of the outbreak, said Deborah Baker, research scientist in the Wadsworth Center Bacteriology Laboratory.

“PulseNet was vitally important because it allowed states to instantly share subtyping information,” Baker said. “As soon as we have a PFGE pattern, we can immediately go into the database and see what’s happening in other states.”

Overall, according to Anand, New York state was home to six confirmed cases and one probable case of E. coli O145 connected to multistate outbreak traced back to shredded lettuce. All six confirmed patients had to be hospitalized and four developed HUS. Nationwide, according to CDC, 26 confirmed and seven probable cases of illness were connected to the E. coli outbreak in five states: Michigan, New York, Ohio, Tennessee and Pennsylvania. (The cases in Tennessee and Pennsylvania were identified in retrospect using PulseNet data.) Among the 30 E. coli patients with available information, 40 percent became so sick they had to be hospitalized. Thankfully, no deaths occurred.

A May 10, 2010 news release from the U.S Food and Drug Administration linked the contaminated shredded lettuce back to Freshway Foods in Ohio. The company issued a voluntary recall.

“For 20 years, PulseNet has helped us find the sources of these horrific illnesses,” said Dumas, associate director of the Wadsworth Center Bacteriology Laboratory. “It’s total teamwork.”

According to CDC, PulseNet identifies about 1,500 clusters of foodborne illness every year, about 250 clusters that cross state lines, and about 30 multistate outbreaks traced back to a food source. A recent economic evaluation of PulseNet found that every year, the laboratory network prevents more than 266,500 illnesses from Salmonella, nearly 9,500 illnesses from E. coli and 56 from Listeria. That translates into $507 million in reduced medical and productivity costs.

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PulseNet helps Washington public health solve largest Salmonella outbreak in recent history

PulseNet helps Washington public health solve largest Salmonella outbreak in recent history |

By Kim Krisberg

In Washington state, it’s not entirely unusual for tiny clusters of foodborne illness to pop up throughout a given year. But in mid-2015, when reports of Salmonella clusters began popping up one right after another across multiple counties, public health workers knew they had a bigger problem on their hands.

Eventually, with the help of the nationwide lab network known as PulseNet, state and local public health investigators were able to connect the nearly two-dozen Salmonella clusters and trace the source to contaminated pork from Washington-based Kapowsin Meats, which ended up recalling more than 116,000 pounds of whole pigs and more than 523,000 pounds of pork products. But solving this outbreak came with a number of twists and turns, with public health workers first suspecting an entirely different culprit — beef.

“At the beginning, we weren’t sure what was making people sick,” said Ailyn Pérez-Osorio, PhD, molecular epidemiologist in the Washington State Department of Health’s Public Health Laboratories. “One of the first clusters was from an Ethiopian graduation party and they don’t typically eat pork, so it was pretty confusing.”

The Salmonella clusters began surfacing in June 2015, with the largest one a group of eight people who had attended an Ethiopian graduation party. A similar incident had occurred the year before also at parties and restaurants in the Ethiopian community, and those Salmonella clusters had been traced back to raw beef included in a traditional Ethiopian dish known as kitfo, said Beth Melius, MN, MPH, RN, foodborne and enteric disease epidemiologist at the Washington State Department of Health. So when the eight-person cluster popped up in summer 2015 and had the same serotype as the previous year’s Salmonella strain, Salmonella I 4,[5],12:i:-, public health investigators naturally looked to raw beef as the potential source.

But then events took a turn. Within days and weeks of the Ethiopian party cluster, state and local public health began receiving reports of Salmonella illnesses connected to pig roasts and live pig exposures as well. After receiving isolates from ill patients, public health lab staff went to work, using pulsed-field gel electrophoresis, or PFGE, to determine the samples’ DNA fingerprints. PFGE results found the same pattern over and over again. But public health investigators were still puzzled — the PFGE pattern was particularly uncommon in Washington, so it would make sense that all of the illnesses were connected to the same contaminated source. But how were the raw beef from the Ethiopian celebrations and the pork from the pig roasts related?

Public health and environmental health investigators hit the ground, interviewing residents who had purchased the whole pigs connected to the Salmonella clusters, gathering as many leftover foods as possible for testing, and reaching out to the markets and restaurants where sick residents had shopped or eaten. Eventually, public health workers with the Washington State Department of Health and Public Health — Seattle & King County traced the likely source of the contaminated pork back to Kapowsin Meats. The entire investigation took less than two months, Melius said. As for sickened residents who hadn’t reported eating pork, public health inspectors determined that cross-contamination was the culprit. For instance, said Pérez-Osorio, at an Ethiopian restaurant where sickened residents had eaten, inspectors found remnants of the contaminated pork in a meat grinder also used for beef.

In all, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 192 people were infected with outbreak strains of Salmonella I 4,[5],12:i:- (188) and Salmonella Infantis (4) in five states: 184 people in Washington, one in Alaska, two in California, two in Idaho and three in Oregon. In addition, CDC’s National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System lab conducted antibiotic-resistance testing on isolates from 10 patients sickened during the outbreak, finding that all 10 samples were multidrug resistant.

Among the 180 patients for whom information is available, 17 percent had to be hospitalized. No deaths were reported during the outbreak, which Melius described as the state’s largest Salmonella outbreak in recent history.

Both Pérez-Osorio and Melius said PulseNet, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2016, was invaluable to solving the outbreak.

“PulseNet allows you to view data not just by pattern, but by where the cases are coming from — it helps you map it all out,” said Pérez-Osorio. “It’s not just the connectivity between states; it’s the whole PulseNet system that allows our lab access to the methods that can lead us to quickly solving these outbreak investigations.”

Melius said PulseNet allowed public health workers to “crack” the multicounty outbreak much quicker than they would have otherwise. With so many little outbreaks happening across a dozen Washington counties, she said PulseNet was key in helping investigators determine which clusters and individual illnesses were connected to the larger outbreak.

“I don’t think we’d solve even half the outbreaks that happen without PulseNet,” said Melius, who also noted that the state’s public health lab conducted PFGE testing on more than 100 samples over the course of just a couple months, with each isolate requiring 16 hours of hands-on work. “It’s a combination of epidemiology, lab work and PulseNet — that’s how we solve our outbreaks and we couldn’t do it without all those pieces.”

On a side note, Pérez-Osorio mentioned that solving such investigations could face additional challenges in the future with the emergence of culture-independent diagnostic testing in clinical labs. She explained that such testing allows clinical labs to identify the general type of bacteria making a person sick, without having to grow or culture the bacteria in the lab. That means clinical labs can determine the cause of a person’s illness much quicker and at lower costs. On the flip side, the method doesn’t generate the particular isolates that public health labs need to connect seemingly separate illnesses and detect a larger outbreak.

“The issue is that generating an isolate is very expensive and as a public health lab, we’re not set up to do that — we’re set up to analyze the isolate,” said Pérez-Osorio. “Right now, all public health labs are facing this issue to one degree or another.”

According to CDC, PulseNet identifies about 1,500 clusters of foodborne illness every year, about 250 clusters that cross state lines, and about 30 multistate outbreaks traced back to a food source. A recent economic evaluation of PulseNet found that every year, the laboratory network prevents more than 266,500 illnesses from Salmonella, nearly 9,500 illnesses from E. coli and 56 from Listeria. That translates into $507 million in reduced medical and productivity costs.


(Photo credit: USDA)

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APHL’s top 10 blog posts of 2016

APHL's top 10 blog posts of 2016 |

There is never a dull year in public health, but 2016 seemed particularly eventful. From Zika to the twentieth anniversary of PulseNet, APHL’s top blog posts reflect the ups and downs of the year. Even if it was tumultuous at times, we are extremely proud of the work done by our members, partners and staff to protect the public’s health and safety. You are all truly heroes in our book!

10. APHL: US needs an environmental health surveillance system to prevent crises like Flint

9. One Team, One Purpose: The Role of USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service in Keeping Food Safe

8. Virginia: PFGE and whole genome sequencing show Salmonella outbreak who’s boss

7. Random dog food sample proved critical in solving human illness outbreak

6. Addition of lysosomal storage disorders to newborn screening panels is complex and highly emotional

5. Inside the public health lab Zika response: ‘It’s the great unknown as to how much longer this will go on’

4. Everything you need for Lab Week 2016

3. 3 Zika tests explained

2. Zika: Old virus, new challenges

The top blog post for 2016 was…

1. Sprouts: Just say no?

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With PulseNet, handful of E. coli cases reveal multistate outbreak, prompt huge recall

With PulseNet, handful of E. coli cases reveal multistate outbreak, prompt huge recall |

By Kim Krisberg

In 2014, two Ohio residents living more than 100 miles apart were diagnosed with an E. coli infection. Twenty years ago, the two cases might have been chalked up to coincidence — after all, tens of millions of Americans experience foodborne illness every year.

But thanks to a nationwide lab network known as PulseNet, public health officials could compare the genetic patterns of the Ohio cases to foodborne illness cases across the country, eventually detecting a multistate foodborne illness outbreak that led to the recall of 1.8 million pounds of ground beef products. Overall, 12 people across Ohio, Michigan, Massachusetts and Missouri were diagnosed with outbreak strains of Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli O157:H7, or STEC O157:H7, and more than half of those sickened had to be hospitalized.

“Without PulseNet, we may have never recognized this as a multistate outbreak,” said Scott Nowicki, MPH, epidemiologist at the Ohio Department of Health.

Several key activities came together in late spring 2014 that enabled public health officials in Ohio and Michigan to detect and contain the outbreak fairly quickly. First, after the Ohio Public Health Laboratory confirmed the initial two cases of STEC O157:H7, student interviewers with Ohio’s FoodCORE team — a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention-funded effort to strengthen state and local foodborne illness outbreak response — set out to interview the patients. It turned out both patients, who lived more than 100 miles apart, said they had eaten at the same local chain restaurant that specializes in serving undercooked hamburgers. It was a strong signal that undercooked beef, as opposed to contaminated produce, was the culprit, Nowicki said.

On the same day as the FoodCORE interviews, the Ohio Public Health Laboratory uploaded its test results for the local STEC O157:H7 cases to PulseNet. Previously, the lab, which routinely receives specimens of public health importance from health providers around the state, received isolates connected to the STEC O157:H7 patients. Lab staff then performed pulsed-field gel electrophoresis, or PFGE, to determine the sample’s DNA fingerprint pattern. They posted the fingerprint patterns to PulseNet and quickly noticed their PFGE results matched two isolates in Michigan.

With PulseNet, handful of E. coli cases reveal multistate outbreak, prompt huge recall | www.APHLblog.orgIn addition to a match, the PFGE pattern was also relatively uncommon, which was another strong signal of an outbreak rather than a string of isolated cases, said Eric Brandt, a laboratory scientist at the Ohio Department of Health, Bureau of Public Health Laboratory.

With the matching PFGE results, epidemiologists in Ohio and Michigan began comparing notes, finding that patients in both states reported eating at restaurants that serve undercooked beef. In particular, 92% of the 12 ill persons identified in the outbreak reported eating ground beef at such a restaurant before they became sick, and 73% said they may have eaten hamburger prepared rare, medium rare or undercooked.

From there, an intensive local, state and federal traceback investigation ensued, eventually tracing the ground beef at the restaurants where the STEC O157:H7 patients had eaten to the Wolverine Packing Company in Detroit. In May 2014, the meatpacking company recalled about 1.8 million pounds of ground beef that may have been contaminated with the pathogen. During the outbreak, five people were sickened in Ohio, five in Michigan, one in Massachusetts and one in Missouri. While seven of those people had to be hospitalized, none developed hemolytic uremic syndrome, a potentially life-threatening complication associated with STEC O157:H7 infection.

Nowicki noted that before PulseNet, it often took many more cases of foodborne illness for public health officials to recognize an outbreak and begin efforts to identify the source and prevent further disease. Indeed, he said the 2014 STEC O157:H7 outbreak is the perfect example of how PulseNet can quickly connect a small handful of seemingly isolated dots to reveal the outbreak lurking beneath.

“For identifying outbreaks,” Nowicki said, “PulseNet is invaluable.”

Brandt agreed, adding that “these very sporadic cases that cross state lines…those would have been much more difficult to detect in the pre-PulseNet days.” He also said that PulseNet, which celebrated its 20th anniversary this year, is “fundamental” to the Ohio Public Health Laboratory’s foodborne illness capacity, providing the lab’s primary infrastructure for cluster detection, bacterial subtyping, training, instrumentation and much more.

“PulseNet is crucial,” said Brandt, who’s spent most of his career working with PulseNet. “I can’t even imagine what it was like before.”

According to CDC, PulseNet identifies about 1,500 clusters of foodborne illness every year, about 250 clusters that cross state lines, and about 30 multistate outbreaks traced back to a food source. A recent economic evaluation of PulseNet found that every year, the laboratory network prevents more than 266,500 illnesses from Salmonella, nearly 9,500 illnesses from E. coli and 56 from Listeria. That translates into $507 million in reduced medical and productivity costs.

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5 Holiday Tips for a Home Safe Home

Closeup photo of family feet in wool socks at fireplace

As the season of togetherness rolls in, regular routines roll out. You do things you don’t normally do: decorating, cooking, hosting guests (and their germs), or playing a pick-up game of football in the backyard. As you channel your inner Julia Child, Aaron Rodgers, or Martha Stewart in preparation for your holiday gatherings, here are five things you should remember:

1.      Don’t let your holidays go up in smoke

Winter is the season to put up a tree, light up the fireplace, or set out candles to decorate your holiday table. Unfortunately, candle fires are four times as likely to happen during the winter holidays. The kitchen is also a source of danger: cooking fires account for 72 percent of Thanksgiving Day fires.

  • Keep alert. Installing a smoke alarm on every level of your home cuts your risk of dying in a fire by half. Make sure to test alarms once a month and replace the batteries at least once a year.
  • Mind the stove. Keep pot holders, wooden utensils, food packaging, and towels away from the stove. Never leave the stove unattended, even for a few minutes – and turn off the burner if you leave the kitchen.
  • Blow it out. Make sure all candles, smoking materials, and fireplaces are properly extinguished before leaving the room or going to bed. Remember to unplug holiday lights too!

 2.      Beware kitchen nightmaresLet's Talk Turkey

Cutting, chopping, and busy preparations mean you’re paying attention to many things at once. Whether you’re hosting an elaborate dinner party or bringing a dish to the neighborhood potluck, keep these tips in mind:

  • Cut carefully. Use a stable surface and make sure your cutting board doesn’t slip away. Remember to cut away from your body and keep your fingers out of the way of your knife.
  • Little fingers make big disasters. Children can reach up and grab a pot or pan and spill the hot contents over themselves. Use back burners when possible and turn pot handles away from the edge.
  • Be food safety savvy. Don’t invite food poisoning to your feast. Use separate cutting boards, plates, and knives for produce and for raw meat, poultry, seafood, and eggs. Use a food thermometer to make sure food cooked in the oven or on the stove top or grill reaches a temperature hot enough to kill germs. In the case of your Thanksgiving turkey, that’s 165°F.

3.      Give the gift of health

Nothing brings down the holiday spirit like a case of stomach flu or a cold. Germs from a cough or sneeze can live on surfaces for longer than 2 hours and spread from person to person in close quarters. Holiday gatherings are breeding grounds for germs like the flu and the common cold. Airports, airplanes, taxis, and rideshare cars are also likely places to pick up a virus.

  • Wet, lather, scrub, rinse, dry. Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Hands off. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Get a flu shot. Remind your guests (6 months of age and older) to get vaccinated this year.

 4.      Bundle up!

Twice as many people die every year from extreme cold temperatures as extreme heat. If you’ll be outside, make sure you’re dressed for the weather.

  • Choose your wardrobe wisely. Wear warm winter clothes, plenty of extra layers, and don’t leave areas of the skin exposed to the cold.
  • Avoid. Spot. Treat. Learn to recognize the symptoms of hypothermia and frostbite.

 5.      Avoid the ER

Many holiday activities are things you only do once a year, like running in the annual turkey trot or decorating the outside of your house with holiday lights. Stay out of the emergency room with these tips:

  • Ramp up gradually. Your risk for a cardiac event, such as heart attack, or other injuries can go up when you’re suddenly more active than usual. Don’t just jump into that backyard football game or holiday 5K. Instead, gradually increase your activity level in the weeks leading up to the event.
  • Take your time. Be sure to work slowly when doing chores outside, like shoveling snow or hanging lights, because your body is already working hard to stay warm.

 Use these tips to prepare this season and make home the safest place of all for your family and guests. Here’s to a happy and safe holiday!