Public Health

Illnesses Carried By Food Remain A Problem

Oh, dear. Most illnesses caused by bacteria and parasites in food are just as big a problem now as they were in 2004.

A vat of ground beef. i i

E. coli loves growing in vats of ground beef. Justin Sullivan/Getty Images) hide caption

itoggle caption Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
A vat of ground beef.

E. coli loves growing in vats of ground beef.

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

There's been some progress, though, if you look back to the late '90s, including for a particularly severe infection caused by the bug Shiga toxin-producing Escherichia coli 0157, or STEC 0157, for short, according to data just out the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (See the report on data collected in a 10-state surveillance system here.)

People catch STEC 0157 from contaminated beef — especially hamburger — that's not cooked thoroughly, unpasteurized milk and juices and even some vegetables, including sprouts. In about 5 to 10 percent of cases, the victims' kidneys fail. Read the harrowing tale recounted by the New York Times a couple of years ago of a hamburger that left a 22-year-old woman paralyzed from the waist down.

One bright spot: The CDC said a drop in the rate of STEC 0157 cases to an estimated 0.99 per 100,000 people in 2009 just met a national target of 1 case per 100,000 folks.

Work started more than a decade ago helped knock down the infection rates for a bunch of diseases, but CDC's Dr.Chris Braden noted in a statement, "We haven't seen much recent progress." The government and industry need new approaches, he said.

Perhaps the worst news, for raw oyster lovers like us, is an big rise in infections with Vibrio vulnificus. Late last year, the Food and Drug Administration backed off a proposal to ban the sale of raw, untreated Gulf Coast oysters, after protests from the seafood industry. About 15 people a year die from Vibrio infections.

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