A member of Congress says the CDC's response to a deadly and ongoing E. coli outbreak related to Romaine lettuce is deeply alarming and endangers the public.
EE. UU Representative Rosa DeLauro, D-CT, sent a scathing letter Monday to Dr. Brenda Fitzgerald, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. DeLauro, who has consistently championed food security initiatives, criticized the apparent lack of action by the CDC and the lack of relevant information for the public. She said the CDC's performance so far is too little, too late and too dangerous.
First exposed by Canadian officials on December 11, a total of 58 people in Canada and the United States have been confirmed with E. coli O157: H7 infections. Two have died. The Canadian authorities warned on December 14 that people should avoid eating Romaine lettuce until further notice because it is the probable source of the bacteria.
In the United States, the CDC waited until December 28 to become public about the outbreak, which they reported in a press release that had been in effect since at least November 15. The CDC mentioned that Canadian officials identified romaine lettuce, but said that US officials were not sure.
"Because we have not identified a source of the infections, CDC can not be recommended if US residents should avoid a particular food." This investigation is ongoing, and more information will be released to as it becomes available, "according to the December 28 press release from the CDC.
The CDC has not published any other public information about the outbreak. The sequencing of the complete genome has shown that victims in both countries are infected with the same strain, suggesting a common source of food.
"The CDC's surprising lack of guidance to consumers about this outbreak is inconceivable," Rep. DeLauro said in his letter to CDC Director Fitzgerald. "… CDC did not provide consumers with warnings or updated information on how best to protect their own health."
"Equally disturbing, the investigation appears to have been" cold ", with the agency's own staff apparently satisfied with ending the investigation. investigation without finding the cause and the source. "
As of Monday, CDC staff could not provide Food Safety News with much information about the outbreak investigation, a spokeswoman said that the CDC has not received no food to prove, but that local and state agencies frequently perform such tests during investigations.
Other information can not be disclosed because the investigation is ongoing, and the outbreak is also a question hanging over the agency.
"In the outbreak of EE. Although the most recent illness began on December 8, it is too early to tell if the outbreak is over, "the CDC spokeswoman told Food Safety News on Monday.
" There is a delay between when someone gets sick and when the illness is reported to the CDC. For E. coli infections this delay in reporting may be two to three weeks. Vacations can increase this delay, so it may take more time before an outbreak is declared when illnesses arise around the holidays.
"Officials also assess whether the food linked to the disease is no longer available, which would indicate the immediate risk to consumers has ended.When the food item has not been identified, it may take more time before declare the start of an outbreak because it is not known if the risk has ended. "
Regarding representative DeLauro, the food has been identified and the risk to the public is not over. He asked the director of the CDC to inform him in writing about six specific points.
- What is the current status of the USE coli outbreak and the CDC investigation?
- When was the first infection by E. coli, associated? with the outbreak of EE UU., Informed the CDC?
- After the diseases reported, when did the CDC begin investigating the outbreak of EE? UU.?
- What is the justification of the CDC to wait almost a month and a half before publicly confirming the outbreak?  To what extent has the CDC collaborated with the Public Health Agency of Canada with respect to both countries' research and data on diseases in Canada?
- What information does the CDC currently have about the origin of the outbreak and what information exists? About the suppliers, distributors or retailers of contaminated food products involved?
The Food and Drug Administration of the United States has also been affected by the outbreak. On January 2, a spokesperson for the FDA said the agency is working on the investigation, but that most of the details are not available to the public. The FDA has not published any information on the outbreak units' website.
"The FDA supports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state and local authorities in an investigation of an outbreak of E. coli O157: H7 toxin producer Shiga diseases," said the spokesman for the FDA to Food Safety News.
"The CDC informed the FDA about this group of diseases in mid-December As with all outbreak investigations, our function is to identify the source of the food that the CDC identifies through case interviews and other tests to identify what was commonly eaten among people who became ill and determine if it is related to the outbreak through testing or other evidence, contact the CDC for more information on their epidemiological investigation. "
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