It is estimated by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that 76 million Americans become ill with a foodborne disease each year, causing 300,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths. In order to decrease these numbers, PulseNet, the national molecular subtyping network was established. The University Hygienic Laboratory joined PulseNet in 1998.
PulseNet is a network of public health laboratories in the United States and Canada that performs DNA fingerprinting on bacterial isolates using pulsed field gel electrophoresis (PFGE) in order to link seemingly sporadic cases of foodborne illness. There is at least one laboratory in each U.S. state and 7 laboratories in Canada that perform PFGE testing on enteric isolates and submit the results to PulseNet.
The results of PFGE produce a distinct pattern for each bacterial strain. These patterns are entered into an electronic database at the CDC, which enables the isolates to be compared in order to determine if there are any pattern matches. A match indicates that two bacterial isolates are genetically related and may come from the same source, indicating a possible link between people who are infected with this strain of bacteria.