Introduction: Molecular subtyping of pathogens is critical for foodborne disease outbreak detection and investigation. Many clusters initially identified by pulsed-field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) are not confirmed as point-source outbreaks. We evaluated characteristics of clusters that can help prioritize investigations to maximize effective use of limited resources.
Materials and Methods: A multiagency collaboration (FoodNet) collected data on Salmonella and Escherichia coli O157 clusters for 3 years. Cluster size, timing, extent, and nature of epidemiologic investigations were analyzed to determine associations with whether the cluster was identified as a confirmed outbreak.
Results: During the 3-year study period, 948 PFGE clusters were identified; 849 (90%) were Salmonella and 99 (10%) were E. coli O157. Of those, 192 (20%) were ultimately identified as outbreaks (154 [18%] of Salmonella and 38 [38%] of E. coli O157 clusters). Successful investigation was significantly associated with larger cluster size, more rapid submission of isolates (e.g., for Salmonella, 6 days for outbreaks vs. 8 days for nonoutbreaks) and PFGE result reporting to investigators (16 days vs. 29 days, respectively), and performance of analytic studies (completed in 33% of Salmonella outbreaks vs. 1% of nonoutbreaks) and environmental investigations (40% and 1%, respectively). Intervals between first and second cases in a cluster did not differ significantly between outbreaks and nonoutbreaks.
Conclusions: Molecular subtyping of pathogens is a rapidly advancing technology, and successfully identifying outbreaks will vary by pathogen and methods used. Understanding criteria for successfully investigating outbreaks is critical for efficiently using limited resources.
Characteristics of clusters of Salmonella and Escherichia coli O157 detected by pulsed-field electrophoresis that predict identification of outbreaks
Foodborne Pathogens and Disease. September 2016, ahead of print. doi:10.1089/fpd.2016.2171.