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Health Agencies Update
June 17, 1998

Tracking Foodborne Infections

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JAMA. 1998;279(23):1857. doi:10.1001/jama.279.23.1857

A new national computer network linking public health laboratories is expected to help epidemiologists identify potentially serious outbreaks of foodborne infection and trace their source.

The system, dubbed "PulseNet," uses a technique called pulsed-field gel electrophoresis, which allows scientists to create a distinctive DNA fingerprint for the infectious agent causing the outbreak. Subtle differences in these molecular fingerprints make it possible to determine whether cases of illness caused by a pathogen such as Escherichia coli O157:H7 can be traced to the same contaminated food source.