One useful thing to know in these outbreaks is how many people actually get sick and to what degree they get sick. The CDC has mentioned research that indicates that, typically, more than 30 people get sick for every person found to be sickened by a foodborne illness.
Yet the CDC’s Doctor Patricia Griffin, Chief of the Enteric Diseases Epidemiology Branch, also acknowledged that this research is based on illnesses not related to known outbreaks. She pointed out that the multiplier is probably much less in an existing outbreak as the widespread publicity probably leads people to pursue medical treatment earlier and more frequently. It also leads medical professionals to order appropriate tests earlier and more frequently.
Some patients are motivated just by the hope of getting well quicker and others may have dollar signs in their eyes thinking that there may be lawsuit out of all this.
In any case, we are left with virtually no information as to what multiplier should be applied to active and well publicized outbreaks. We don’t know if this outbreak has sickened 1,500 people or 50,000 people. In the absence of accurate information, many reporters go with the best they have and the caveats are forgotten or lost in the larger piece.
It is too late for this outbreak, but it seems as if some useful research could be done in this area. The CDC needs to have a research protocol ready to roll out at a moment’s notice so that next time an outbreak becomes well publicized, it can do some research to answer this question: What is the appropriate multiplier to use to determine the number of actual sick people vs. the reported sick people?