An Outbreak of Perspective

The CDC is out with its annual outbreak report, this one looks at data from 2014, and it’s worth offering a bit of perspective before the media hears from the hyperbole engines who will assuredly issue press releases that announce the sky is falling and the end of days is upon us.

Of the outbreaks attributed to a specific food product, the CDC numbers show seafood accounted for 63 outbreaks and 335 illnesses which makes up about 12% of the total. Numerically seafood tops the list based simply on the number of outbreaks but is nowhere near the top in actually causing illnesses.

By comparison land animals accounted for 1,182 illnesses making up 43% of the total of attributed illnesses. Interestingly seeded vegetables had only 7 outbreaks but accounted for 428 illnesses.

For reporters, producers and editors who might be covering this CDC compilation it’s important to recognize and report on the difference between outbreaks and illnesses. It’s quite possible for Product A. to account for 10 outbreaks with 30 illnesses, while Product B. accounts for 1 outbreak with 1,000 illnesses.  The measure of actual impact is clearly illnesses.