Thursday, December 20, 2012


Diagnosis of the reason for any food poisoning episode is an arduous task and especially if it is due in infection by pathogenic bacteria, the uncertainties are manifold. There are half a dozen pathogens that cause food poisoning that include virulent E.coli, Salmonella, Listeria, Clostridium and a few others. Most of the prevailing diagnostic facilities depend on isolating the microorganism and identifying the same before treatment can be decided. The tests involving culturing the microbe and confirmatory procedure will take a few days before the culprit is identified. Modern tests involving DNA finger printing and other alternatives do facilitate the process to some extent. There are ready kits available for microbial testing and they do serve a purpose. New tests are being developed and are in the pipeline which can speed up the results further. According to experts such tests can only serve the limited purpose of detecting the main type of the pathogen while an effective treatment regime can be thought of only when the sub types are also known. Here is a take on this new development that deserves attention by geneticists and pathologists for further refining the techniques to tackle the problem.   . 

"New tests that promise to speed up diagnosis of food poisoning pose an unexpected problem: They could make it more difficult to identify dangerous outbreaks like the one that sickened people who ate a variety of Trader Joe's peanut butter this fall. The new tests could reach medical laboratories as early as next year, an exciting development for patients. They could shave a few days off the time needed to tell whether E. coli, salmonella or other food-borne bacteria caused a patent's illness, allowing faster treatment of sometimes deadly diseases. The problem: These new tests can't detect crucial differences between different subtypes of bacteria, as today's tests can. And that fingerprint is what states and the federal government use to match sick people to a contaminated food. "It's like a forensics lab. If somebody says a shot was fired, without the bullet you don't know where it came from," explained E. coli expert Dr. Phillip Tarr of Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention expects private labs to rapidly adopt these next-generation tests — and warns that what is progress for individual patients could hamper the nation's efforts to keep food safe. Already, 1 in 6 Americans gets sick from food-borne illness each year, and 3,000 die. So even before these tests hit the market, the agency is searching for solutions. Unless one is found, the CDC's Dr. John Besser said the tests' unintended consequence could be that  ultimately, more people become sick".

Does this mean that technological progress can change the perception of threat from food pathogens? It is true that every innovation takes time to mature and during the early stages of implementation only glitches are noticed and remedies found for overcoming the same. With massive DNA data available now centrally for instant access and comparison, most of the uncertainties associated with decoding the culprit in a food episode have considerably come down. Seeking for perfection and absolute reliability are continuing pursuits which continuously raise the bar for the pathogens to inflict casualties through food contamination.


No comments: