The CDC has announced it will begin tracking infections caused by cronobacter, which was behind an outbreak in 2021-22 among babies and caused an infant formula shortage that plagued the nation for months.

The council is the body that recommends what diseases are “reportable.” That list already includes illnesses from other foodborne pathogens, including E. coli, Salmonella, and Listeria. About 120 other illnesses are on the list of “nationally notifiable” pathogens. The council and the CDC manage the list. 

When the recommendation becomes active, cronobacter infections identified in infants less than 1-year-old will be reported by doctors and laboratories to state health departments. Those departments will then notify the CDC.

Consumer advocacy groups, including STOP Foodborne Illness, Consumer Reports, and the Environmental Working Group, have advocated for change for years but stepped up efforts during the outbreak in 2021-22.

Although little data is available because infections from the bacteria have not routinely been tracked, current numbers show that 40 percent of babies infected with cronobacter die.

Minnesota and Michigan are the only states that have been reporting cronobacter infections to the CDC. The recommendation can be adopted now by any state but will not formally go into effect until 2024.

Based on a recommendation from the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials announced their decision Thursday, June 29. 

Minnesota officials discovered the first infant cronobacter infection of the 2021-22 outbreak and reported it to the FDA. That led local, state, and federal public health officials to pool information and discover patients in Texas and Ohio. After the outbreak, consumer groups said that if cronobacter infection had been a reportable disease, illnesses could have been prevented, and lives could have been saved.

“These efforts will assist public health agencies in quantifying and identifying the cause of cronobacter infections,” Janet Hamilton, executive director of the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists, said in a statement. “(It) will help protect the health of those most vulnerable. Ultimately, we want these infections to be prevented.”

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