PulseNet Canada was formally established as the country’s National Molecular Subtyping Network for Foodborne Disease Surveillance in the year 2000. Currently, the network includes the public health laboratories of all ten provinces (British Columbia, Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec, Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland & Labrador) plus two federal laboratories (the Public Health Agency of Canada’s Laboratory for Foodborne Zoonoses and Health Canada’s Bureau of Microbial Hazards). The network is coordinated by the Public Health Agency of Canada’s National Microbiology Laboratory(external link) located in Winnipeg, Manitoba. The PulseNet Canada team at NML houses and manages the national databases. All cases of E. coli O157:H7 in Canada are characterized by PFGE and shared through the PulseNet system, as well as the majority of Salmonella cases. Shigella and Campylobacter are also characterized by standardized PFGE when and outbreak is suspected.
PulseNet Canada utilizes a secure Internet-based discussion board as the primary means of communication. The discussion board is hosted by the Canadian Network for Public Health Intelligence and has been used for PulseNet Canada communications since early 2005. Participating laboratories post clusters of cases with indistinguishable PFGE patterns found within their jurisdictions to the discussion board. NML provides training on PFGE and BioNumerics to participating laboratories as needed. Most recently, individuals from all participating labs attended at 2-day workshop by Applied Maths hosted by NML in May 2007.
PulseNet Canada headquarters began issuing a weekly program report to all participating laboratories in late 2006. The weekly report provides a summary table of current clusters as well as a compilation of database activity, and any news items, issues and tips for the week. The report is posted to the discussion board and is available electronically to all participating laboratories. By having a summary of active clusters available “at-a-glance”, participating laboratories and epidemiologists use the weekly report to stay on top of current events.
Participating laboratories meet annually at the PulseNet Canada Annual Meeting held in Winnipeg. In February 2007 NML hosted a joint meeting with the Foodborne Epidemiologists Conference, formally bringing PulseNet laboratories and provincial and federal foodborne epidemiologists together for the first time. Co-Chaired by PulseNet Canada and PHAC’s Outbreak Response and Issues Management, Foodborne, Waterborne and Zoonotic Infections Division, one of the primary themes of the meeting was enhancing communication between laboratories and epidemiologists. The joint laboratory-epidemiology general session comprised approximately half of the conference time. Presentations were delivered on topics including “The Challenges of Interjurisdictional Foodborne Outbreak Investigations”, “Prioritizing Salmonella Serotypes for PFGE Subtyping”, “Information Flow Between Labs and Epis: What Works Well and What We Can Improve” and “National Level Cluster Detection and Interpretation”. Lively and useful discussions followed as the laboratories and epidemiologists discussed issues of mutual concern and interest.
Canada and the United States signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) in August 2005 that describes both countries’ recognition of the importance and commitment to sharing PFGE data for foodborne disease surveillance. Since the agreement was signed, PulseNet USA and PulseNet Canada headquarters jointly drafted a protocol to describe our data-sharing and notification procedures. The agreement was fully implemented in March 2007, when PulseNet USA and Canada database managers achieved direct access to each other’s national databases (on a read-only basis). This arrangement between the two national networks facilitates the early identification of cross-border clusters and has further enhanced the communication between PulseNet Canada and PulseNet USA.
For further information please contact:
Dr Celine Nadon, PulseNet Canada, National Microbiology Laboratory, Winnipeg, Canada.