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Quickly Noted: Salmonella Infects US

July 11, 2008

According to the US News and World Report, the ongoing salmonella saintpaul outbreak is the largest food-borne disease outbreak in the history of the US. Now, I’ll forgive them for not including outbreaks before the Wiley Act, but still, the largest? In this era of biosurveillance and agro-security our food is making thousands of people sick?

We’ve talked about agro-security before (wow, after re-reading that, I’m really happy with it), about how basic food chain security will save lives, plain and simple.

Yet, here we are, one year later, and at least one person dead from this latest outbreak, with epidemiologists no closer to the answer than they were in April.

Now, I’m going to do something that I’ve been warned never to do, so let me preface it heavily. To the best of my knowledge, and in all reality, this is NOT happening.

On to the conjecture: what if someone was poisoning our tomatoes, our cilantro? What if this was an agro-terrorist attack? Would we know? Could we tell the difference between a “naturally” ocurring outbreak and something intentional? Is there really any difference?

All that money spent on bioterrorism programs and homeland security, and we don’t even know what’s making us sick? The folks in public health who have complained about the singular focus of all that spending to the exclusion of traditional public health goals are being vindicated in this slow motion disaster.

That said, I still argue that that money and those bioterrorism programs should be applied to agriculture protection, and indeed all public health work. The goals are the same: prevent disease, protect people, save lives. Why not invest in a system that’s been proven to work, rather than a small, very new, very homeland security-ish subset of that system?

Photo credit: jacki-dee

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