In 2018, a foodborne outbreak linked to romaine lettuce affected consumers in the United States and Canada. The discussion below describes the pathogen responsible for the outbreak and its characteristics. It also lists the case counts in these two nations. The final part identifies the technologies different experts used to investigate the infections.
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Pathogen and Characteristics
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the foodborne outbreak was a result of E. coli contamination. This was after the agency collaborated with other institutions to conduct numerous studies and tests on different food materials, including the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). The scientific name for the responsible pathogen is Escherichia coli (Stobbe, 2018). The specific serotype for this organism is E. coli O157:H7.
E. coli O157:H7 has distinctive characteristics that biologists use to identify it. The first important one is that its unique metabolic attributes differ from those of the other serotypes. This means that the pathogen cannot ferment sorbitol within a period of 24 hours. This is the case since they lack beta-glucuronidase enzymes (Honish et al., 2017). The second characteristic is that E. coli O157:H7 has a cell envelope structure associated with gram-negative bacteria (Honish et al., 2017). The outer membrane has a lipopolysaccharide component. The third attribute is that the lipopolysaccharide has a carbohydrate structure and composition. These aspects make it possible for scientists to differentiate the pathogen from other E. coli.
Although different agencies indicated that the outbreak had already been contained by June 2018, several casualties and case counts were reported in the United States and Canada. For instance, 36 states across the United States recorded a total of 210 infections. The number of patients hospitalized was 96. Jacobs (2018) indicates that 27 of them developed a kidney failure condition known as a hemolytic uremic syndrome (HUS). The United States reported five deaths. The affected states were Minnesota, New York, Arkansas, and California.
In Canada, eight cases of infection were related and were similar to the ones recorded in the United States. The affected provinces were Ontario (2 patients), Quebec (1 patient), Alberta (1 patient), British Columbia (1 patient), and Saskatchewan (2 patients). Only one individual was hospitalized (Stobbe, 2018). There was also no death reported in Canada.
The first technology researchers considered was the PulseNet System. This approach uses modern innovations to complete the molecular subtyping of bacterial organisms. It works by characterizing pathogens’ nucleic acids and proteins, thereby making it effective whenever investigating foodborne outbreaks. Molecular subtyping is identified as the newest technology for conducting epidemiologic investigations (Jacobs, 2018). There are PulseNet laboratories in the country that use different technological equipment, including CHEF-Mapper, CHEF-DRIII, and CHEF-DRII.
Whole Genome Sequencing (WGS)
This is the second technological approach employed to investigate this outbreak. It sequences and determines the genetic constitution or blueprint of every pathogen capable of causing foodborne diseases. Researchers go further to link outbreaks in different locations and people (Honish et al., 2017). The ultimate objective is to identify the potential source of a condition and where it might have originated. This technology makes it possible for different agencies to identify the potential causes of food-related conditions.
The romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak in Canada and the United States claimed the lives of 5 people. The use of modern technologies made it possible for different agencies to complete numerous investigations and offer adequate support to the affected patients. Scientists should, therefore, identify superior procedures and methods for monitoring potential health threats.
Honish, L., Punja, N., Nunn, S., Nelson, D., Hislop, N., Gosselin, G., … Dittrich, D. (2017). Escherichia coli O157:H7 infections associated with contaminated pork products — Alberta, Canada, July–October 2014. Canada Communicable Disease Report, 43(1), 21-24.
Jacobs, J. (2018). Officials identify a source in the romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak. The New York Times. Web.
Stobbe, M. (2018). 5 deaths linked to romaine lettuce E. coli outbreak in U.S., nearly 200 illnesses. Global News. Web.