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Food-borne illness linked to poultry, seafood on the rise

April 18, 2013|By Melissa Healy
  • Cook it, clean up well after it: Uncooked poultry is a common source of Campylobacter, a food-borne pathogen on the rise in the government's latest survey of food-borne illnesses.
Cook it, clean up well after it: Uncooked poultry is a common source of Campylobacter,… (Cameron Spencer )

An increasing proportion of Americans made ill by food-borne pathogens in 2012 suffered from the effects of bacteria often found in uncooked poultry and in seafood from warm coastal waters, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported Tuesday.

Among the food-borne illnesses tracked in 10 U.S. monitoring sites, the incidence of illness attributed to the bacterium Campylobacter--most often originating from raw or undercooked poultry and sometimes from raw milk products--rose by 14% in 2012 over levels seen in 2006-2008. Food-borne illnesses linked to Vibrio, though far less common than those linked to pathogens such as Salmonella or E. coli, rose by 43% over 2006-2008 levels, the CDC reported.

For Campylobacter, even that increase represents a decline from rates of food-borne infections linked to the pathogen 15 years ago. But for Vibrio, the increase is part of a steady upward pattern from 1996-98.

The two pathogens tend to strike consumers at different ends of the age spectrum: while Campylobacter sickens consumers of all ages, it appears most likely to sicken and hospitalize those under 5 years of age. The majority of those who took ill after eating food tainted by Vibrio were 65 or older.

All told, the incidence of food-borne illnesses held steady with numbers gathered in 2006-2008, and were down from 1996-98 figures.

Salmonella remains the pathogen most often linked to food-borne illness, accounting for 7,800 cases of the 19,531 food-borne illnesses reported in 2012 at the 10 monitoring stations that make up the CDC's surveillance network (a system which captures about 15% of the U.S. population). Campylobacter comes in a close second, followed distantly by Shigella, Cryptosporidium, Escherichia coli, Vibrio, Yersinia, Listeria and Cyclosporidium.

All these pathogens can result in several days of misery, including vomiting, diarrhea and, particularly for those with compromised or incomplete immune systems, even death. Of the 15,531 food-borne illnesses reported by the CDC's 10-site surveillance system in 2012, 4,563 resulted in hospitalization and 68 resulted in death. While Salmonella killed the largest number of infected patients, Listeria was the most deadly, killing 10.74% of the 121 patients who were infected by it.

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