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IN A MERE 12 months, Escherichia coli 0157:H7 has gained renown as a media darling, a target for state legislatures, and a random killer.
A year after the potentially deadly bacterial strain struck hundreds of fast-food chain patrons in Washington and three other Western states, federal and state governments are trying to get a better handle on how frequently the pathogen strikes, and how to make it stop.
But E coli 0157:H7 is just the tip of the iceberg. At last count, foodborne bacterial, viral, and parasitic infections caused 6 million illnesses and 9000 deaths annually. That was in 1983, however. During the intervening years, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Atlanta, Ga, no new count has been taken, and public health officials aren't sure if foodborne disease is on the rise or wane.
Perhaps the only certainty is that Washington's massive outbreak has ignited new calls
Voelker R. Foodborne Illness Problems More Than Enteric. JAMA. 1994;271(1):8-11. doi:10.1001/jama.1994.03510250016005