20 years of PulseNet: Preventing thousands of illnesses and saving millions of dollars

20 years of PulseNet: Preventing thousands of illnesses and saving millions of dollars

Happy anniversary, PulseNet! For 20 years, this revolutionary national laboratory network has triggered outbreak investigations far more quickly than before its inception. As we celebrate this landmark, we are looking back at PulseNet’s impact on foodborne outbreak detection.

“PulseNet was transformational in the US for both food safety and for the nation’s public health labs,” said Scott Becker, APHL’s executive director. “It showcases the best of public health lab science and its ability to improve the health of all Americans.”

20 years of PulseNet: Preventing thousands of illnesses and saving millions of dollars | www.APHLblog.orgA recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine looks at the health and economic benefits of PulseNet by measuring the reduction of reported illnesses, saved medical costs and averted productivity losses as the result of fewer people getting sick. (The study, “An Economic Evaluation of PulseNet: A Network for Foodborne Disease Surveillance,” was conducted by researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and The Ohio State University’s Department of Human Sciences. Data was collected between 1994 and 2009 were assembled and analyzed between 2010 and 2015.)

So exactly how valuable is PulseNet?

270,000 foodborne illnesses are prevented each year.

PulseNet collects data for nine bacteria including Campylobacter, Cronobacter, Listeria, Salmonella, Shiga-toxin producing E. coli, Shigella, Yersinia, Vibrio cholera, and Vibrio parahaemolyticus. When looking at the three most common foodborne pathogens (Salmonella, E. coli and Listeria), PulseNet prevents roughly 270,000 foodborne illnesses each year.

At least one billion pounds of contaminated food has been recalled thanks to PulseNet.

PulseNet triggered outbreak investigations have resulted in the withdrawal of at least one billion pounds of contaminated food from the marketplace.

PulseNet’s economic value is more than 70 times its cost.

20 years of PulseNet: Preventing thousands of illnesses and saving millions of dollars | www.APHLblog.org (Photo credit: CDC)PulseNet costs public health agencies about $7 million per year to operate. By preventing illnesses, PulseNet saves $507 million in medical costs and lost productivity. That means for every $1 spent on this network, $70 is saved.

By identifying problems in food production and distribution systems, PulseNet makes our food safer to eat. PulseNet has led to changes in food production and new federal recommendations, and speeds up identification and recalls of tainted foods. All of these actions mean less contaminated food is making its way to our plates.

The future of PulseNet looks even more valuable as whole genome sequencing data is used more often in outbreak detection. Whole genome sequencing will provide significantly more detailed information about the bacteria, and make PulseNet more powerful and precise than ever.

More information about the 20th anniversary of PulseNet:

(Image credits: CDC)