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WASHINGTON, D.C. -- Americans' vulnerability to foodborne illness has been highlighted by large outbreaks over the last two years. To increase awareness, a new educational guide for healthcare professionals on how to identify and treat foodborne illnesses, as well as consumer tips for patients, was released today at a news conference in the nation's capital.
"Approximately 76 million Americans suffer from a foodborne illness every year, and 5,000 deaths each year are attributed to foodborne illness," said Cecil B. Wilson, MD, an American Medical Association trustee. "Healthcare professionals are the frontline of prevention. Arming physicians with the latest information on foodborne illnesses helps them better diagnose and treat their patients."
The easy to read primer, "Diagnosis and Management of Foodborne Illnesses: A Primer for Physicians and Other Healthcare Professional,s" contains charts, scenarios and a continuing medical education section and is free to healthcare professionals. The primer, initially introduced in 2001, contains five new sections on new and re-emerging foodborne illnesses and was written with an emphasis on living in the post 9-11 environment.
"Recent concerns about hepatitis A and norovirus outbreaks have emphasized the need for health professionals to be vigilant for foodborne pathogens, and this need is further emphasized by concerns about intentional contamination of food," said David Acheson, MD, director of the Office of Food Safety at FDA's Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition. "The new primer will assist physicians and other healthcare professionals to be aware of what to look for in relation to foodborne disease, whether accidental or deliberate."
More than 75 percent of foodborne illness deaths are caused by just three pathogens: salmonella, listeria and toxoplasma. Information on both salmonella and toxoplasma has been added to the new primer, and the listeria section has been updated. Other new sections are: hepatitis A, norovirus and unexplained illness.
"By diagnosing cases of foodborne illness quickly and accurately, the health care community can help prevent the spread of illnesses associated with pathogens such as salmonella," said Barbara Masters, DVM, acting administrator of the USDA Food Safety and Inspection Service."In addition to arming physicians with vital information, the new primer also gives doctors a way to help their patients protect themselves and their loved ones from foodborne illnesses."
Greater understanding of foodborne illnesses by nurses, and other frontline healthcare providers, is also important to early detection.
"The release of this educational primer is likely to change the way that nurses conduct assessments of their patients," said Pamela C. Hagan, MSN, RN, chief programs officer for the American Nurses Association. "It will help educate nurses that common symptoms may be the first signs of foodborne illness, and it will reinforce the importance of identifying and reporting these illnesses early."
Reporting cases of foodborne illness are just as important as identifying and treating the illness. Currently, foodborne illnesses are underreported in the United States by both patients and healthcare professionals.
"Our systems to identify foodborne illness rely on the clinicians and state health officials who report clusters of unusual illness," said Art Liang, MD, director of the CDC's Food Safety Office. "Foodborne disease remains a substantial public health concern, and with diligent reporting, we can rapidly identify the source of an outbreak and prevent additional people from getting sick. We may even prevent children or immune-compromised people from contracting serious infections from contaminated foods and dying."
The primer was created though a partnership of the American Medical Association (AMA) and the American Nurses Association (ANA) - American Nurses Foundation (ANF) in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Food Safety Office, the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA) Center for Food Safety and Applied Nutrition and the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Food Safety and Inspection Service.
Healthcare professionals can request a free copy of the primer by visiting the AMA Web site at www.ama-assn.org/go/foodborne. The consumer tips to food safety are also available at this site.