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PulseNet: The First Step in Identifying a Foodborne Outbreak

PulseNet laboratorians from across the nation submit DNA fingerprints of bacteria from sick patients to CDC. When fingerprints are matched, investigations may be launched to detect the source of the illnesses

PulseNet laboratorians from across the nation submit DNA fingerprints of bacteria from sick patients to CDC. When fingerprints are matched, investigations may be launched to detect the source of the illnesses

PulseNet Detects Outbreaks

The PulseNet team at CDC compares fingerprint data submitted from across the country

The PulseNet team at CDC compares fingerprint data submitted from across the country. Click for larger view.

PulseNet is a network of local and state public health laboratories that use a subtyping technique called Pulsed-Field Gel Electrophoresis (PFGE), also called DNA fingerprinting, to detect, investigate, and control outbreaks of foodborne infection.  Subtyping allows scientists to see the differences between bacterial strains of the same species and monitor the trends of those bacteria. Results are communicated back to the labs that submitted the patterns and investigation details are posted to the PulseNet message board. Learn More

Not Just Food

In addition to foodborne outbreaks, PulseNet has also identified outbreaks due to bacteria carried by pet turtles, hedgehogs, animals at petting zoos, rodents, reptiles, and in animal food. Learn More

PulseNet Participants’ Role

PFGE patterns or “fingerprints” are generated in real-time and analyzed at the state, local, or federal laboratories.  The public health laboratorians then enter this data into an electronic database of DNA fingerprints and submit the PFGE patterns immediately to the CDC so that national surveillance can be performed by the PulseNet team. Learn More

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PulseNet at CDC

Monthly submission rate of a particular PFGE pattern illustrates an increase in pattern uploads for January 2013.  Monitoring these trends in real-time allows PulseNet to detect an outbreak early and work with epidemiologists to identify the source

Monthly submission rate of a particular PFGE pattern illustrates an increase in pattern uploads for January 2013. Click for larger view.

The PulseNet team at CDC compares fingerprint data submitted from across the country. They look for groups of matching patterns (clusters) with higher than normal incidence.  By monitoring trends in PFGE patterns, the PulseNet team is able to rapidly identify increases in case submissions from across the US in real-time and quickly launch investigations into the cause of illnesses reported.  These clusters of cases identified by PulseNet are investigated by epidemiologists and if links are found between cases, the cluster is classified as an outbreak.  The results are reported back to the labs that submitted the patterns and posted to the PulseNet message board.    

PulseNet, as a cluster detection tool, rapidly identifies potential outbreaks.  The goals of PulseNet are to provide real-time surveillance of bacterial foodborne diseases and assist epidemiologists in investigating outbreaks. PulseNet also provides a rapid and effective means of communication between public health laboratories. Learn More

Medscape Commentaries

Dr. Christopher Braden highlights key facts about foodborne illnesses in special populations to help clinicians recognize and diagnose those at greatest risk. - Medscape CDC Expert Commentaries on Medscape are part of a collaboration between CDC and Medscape. They are designed to deliver CDC's authoritative guidance directly to Medscape's physicians, nurses, pharmacists, and other healthcare professionals. The Division contributes regular Medscape commentaries on food safety and zoonoses.

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