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Foodborne Pathog Dis. 2012 Feb;9(2):150-5. doi: 10.1089/fpd.2011.0971.

Rapid detection of foodborne botulism outbreaks facilitated by epidemiological linking of cases: implications for food defense and public health response.

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Epidemiology and Community Health, School of Public Health, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA.


The main objective of this study was to develop an understanding of the descriptive epidemiology of foodborne botulism in the context of outbreak detection and food defense. This study used 1993-2008 data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Annual Summaries of Notifiable Diseases, 2003-2006 data from the Bacterial Foodborne and Diarrheal Disease National Case Surveillance Annual Reports, and 1993-2008 data from the Annual Listing of Foodborne Disease Outbreaks. Published outbreak investigation reports were identified through a PubMed search of MEDLINE citations for botulism outbreaks. Fifty-eight foodborne botulism outbreaks were reported to CDC between 1993 and 2008. Four hundred sixteen foodborne botulism cases were documented; 205 (49%) were associated with outbreaks. Familial connections and co-hospitalization of initial presenting cases were common in large outbreaks (>5 cases). In these outbreaks, the time from earliest exposure to outbreak recognition varied dramatically (range, 48-216 h). The identification of epidemiologic linkages between foodborne botulism cases is a critical part of diagnostic evaluation and outbreak detection. Investigation of an intentionally contaminated food item with a long shelf life and widespread distribution may be delayed until an astute physician suspects foodborne botulism; suspicion of foodborne botulism occurs more frequently when more than one case is hospitalized concurrently. In an effort to augment national botulism surveillance and antitoxin release systems and to improve food defense and public health preparedness efforts, medical organizations and Homeland Security officials should emphasize the education and training of medical personnel to improve foodborne botulism diagnostic capabilities to recognize single foodborne botulism cases and to look for epidemiologic linkages between suspected cases.

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