Emergency care physicians' knowledge, attitudes, and practices related to surveillance for foodborne disease in the United States

Clin Infect Dis. 2008 Apr 15;46(8):1264-70. doi: 10.1086/533445.


During the past decade, the incidence of certain bacterial pathogens that are commonly transmitted through food in the United States has decreased. Concurrently, the emergency department has become an increasingly common setting for health care. Because public health surveillance for bacterial foodborne diseases fundamentally depends on stool cultures, we conducted a survey of physicians who attended an emergency medicine conference to describe knowledge, attitudes, and practices among this provider population. A convenience sample of 162 physicians, representing 34 states, provided responses. Thirty-eight percent reported having ordered a stool culture for the most recent patient with acute diarrheal illness examined in the emergency department, but only 26% of the physicians subsequently received the stool culture results. For only 2 pathogens (Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Salmonella species) did at least one-half of the respondents provide the correct response regarding whether selected diarrheal disease pathogens were reportable in their state. Responses indicated familiarity with the Infectious Diseases Society of America's practice guidelines regarding stool cultures for patients with severe symptoms and a history of travel, but less so with characteristics of public health importance (i.e., attendance at day care and employment as a restaurant cook). We recommend that educational opportunities be made available to emergency care physicians that highlight the public health significance of acute diarrheal illness and that reinforce guidelines regarding culturing stool specimens, making recommendations to prevent further transmission, and reporting to local health authorities.

MeSH terms

  • Diarrhea / diagnosis
  • Diarrhea / microbiology
  • Diarrhea / prevention & control
  • Escherichia coli O157 / isolation & purification
  • Feces / microbiology
  • Foodborne Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Foodborne Diseases / microbiology
  • Foodborne Diseases / prevention & control
  • Health Care Surveys
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Practice Patterns, Physicians'
  • Salmonella / isolation & purification