Foodborne Types Changing

The spectrum of foodborne diseases is constantly changing. A century ago, typhoid fever, tuberculosis and cholera were common foodborne diseases. Improvements in food safety, such as pasteurization of milk, safe canning, and disinfection of water supplies have conquered those diseases. Today other foodborne infections have taken their place, including some that have only recently been discovered.
  • In 1996, the parasite Cyclospora suddenly appeared as a cause of diarrheal illness related to Guatemalan raspberries. These berries had just started to be grown commercially in Guatemala, and somehow became contaminated in the field there with this unusual parasite.
  • In 1998, a new strain of the bacterium Vibrio parahemolyticus contaminated oyster beds in Galveston Bay and caused an epidemic of diarrheal illness in persons eating the oysters raw. The affected oyster beds were near the shipping lanes, which suggested that the bacterium arrived in the ballast water of freighters and tankers coming into the harbor from distant ports.
  • Newly recognized microbes emerge as public health problems for several reasons: microbes can easily spread around the world, new microbes can evolve, the environment and ecology are changing, food production practices and consumption habits change, and because better laboratory tests can now identify microbes that were previously unrecognized.
In the last 15 years, several important diseases of unknown cause have turned out to be complications of foodborne infections.
  • For example, we now know that the Guillain-Barre syndrome can be caused by Campylobacter infection.
  • The most common cause of acute kidney failure in children, hemolytic uremic syndrome, is caused by infection with E coli O157: H7 and related bacteria. In the future, other diseases whose origins are currently unknown may turn out be related to foodborne infections.

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