May 17, 2023

In The News: Bacterial Infection Linked to Recent Baby Formula Shortage May Join Federal Disease Watchlist

CNN reports health officials are considering the addition of Cronobacter sakazakii infections to the National Notifiable Diseases Surveillance System. The bacteria can contaminate baby formula and caused an outbreak investigated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2022. Four babies became ill, two of them died. Infections are considered infrequent, but the lack of reporting and tracking masks the ultimate reach.

Adding Cronobacter infections to the watchlist would enable the CDC to prioritize surveillance due to the threat posed to public health. The Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists identified Cronobacter as an investigative priority and formed a work group to assess conditions, risks and surveillance processes. It intends to present its findings in June.

If the council votes in favor of adding Cronobacter, a recommendation would go on to CDC. The CDC would determine whether to deem it notifiable followed by state and local governments adjusting reporting and developing processes for reporting to health departments. Those reports would then go on to the CDC. Currently, Minnesota and Michigan require doctors to report Cronobacter cases. If CDC approves, data collection from other states would likely start in 2024.

Experts quoted in the story called the potential addition “a necessary step” and noted “the lack of reporting significantly hampers the ability to fully understand Cronobacter’s public health impact.” One also calls for mandatory notification by manufacturers if a baby formula batch tests positive. Right now, such reporting is voluntary. Generating awareness through reporting and an education campaign is hoped to reveal its true impact of and what changes could be made to safeguard public health.

PIDS Foundation Chair, Kris Bryant, commented “Cronobacter sakazakii and other Cronobacter species are Gram-negative environmental organisms that occasionally cause bacteremia and meningitis in young infants. Although these infections are not currently subject to mandatory reporting in most states, laboratory-based surveillance suggests that 18 cases occur annually in the United States (0.49 cases/100,00 infants). Adding C. sakazakii to the national list of notifiable diseases will not create a large administrative burden for healthcare providers and has the potential to give us the data needed to drive better prevention strategies.”

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