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Being in DC for several days can turn nearly anyone into a “policy wonk.”  This is even more so when you are meeting with Congressmemebers, Senators, Staff and Reporters on the progress of Food Safety Legislation.  With the CDC numbers that came out yesterday, revising the numbers of foodborne illnesses, and this report, there is still much work to do to lower the incidence of foodborne illnesses.  Passing the Food Safety Bill would be a very good start.

The Robert Woods Johnson Foundation Report – “Ready or Not? 2010” Finds States Achieve Highest Ever Scores for Health Emergency Preparedness, But Progress Threatened by Budget Cuts – is a fascinating read on the status of our public health system, and specifically on our ability to do adequate surveillance on biohazards – like foodborne illnesses. According to the report, while states have made progress, there are still a series of major ongoing gaps in preparedness, including in basic infrastructure and funding, biosurveillance, maintaining an adequate and expertly trained workforce, developing and manufacturing vaccines and medicines, surge capacity for providing care in major emergencies, and helping communities cope with and recover from emergencies. Some key findings include:

• Seven states cannot currently share data electronically with health care providers;

• 10 states do not have an electronic syndromic surveillance system that can report and exchange information to rapidly detect disease outbreaks;

• Only four states report not having enough staffing capacity to work five, 12-hour days for six to eight weeks in response to an infectious disease outbreak;

• 21 states were not able to rapidly identify disease-causing E. coli O157:H7 and submit the lab results in 90 percent of cases within four days.

Ready or Not? provides a series of recommendations that address the ongoing major gaps in emergency health preparedness, including:

• Gaps in Funding and Infrastructure: The resources required to truly modernize public heath systems must be made available to bring public health into 21st century and improve preparedness;

• A Surveillance Gap: The United States lacks an integrated, national approach to biosurveillance, and there are major variations in how quickly states collect and report data which hamper bioterrorism and disease outbreak response capabilities;

• A Workforce Gap: The United States has 50,000 fewer public health workers than it did 20 years ago—and one-third of current workers are eligible to retire within five years. Policies must be supported that ensure there are a sufficient number of adequately trained public health experts—including epidemiologists, physicians, nurses, and other workers—to respond to all threats to the public’s health.