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Frequently Asked Questions

The Pathogen Tracker Game has been created as a fun challenge for anyone interested in learning more about the spread of foodborne illnesses. Whether you play the game for fun or use it in the classroom, you are likely to have questions. We are compiling Frequently Asked Questions here along with answers provided by experts. You might find your answer in the FAQ files below.


Questions and Answers

Q: Who can play the Pathogen Tracker Game?

A: Anyone online is welcome to play the game. We do not keep a record of who is playing or of his/her progress. That is why you need the password to enter the next stage of the game. If you are going to use the experience as part of a report for school, consider downloading the worksheets and using them for notetaking.

Q: Is this game based on an actual outbreak and if so, which one is it and where can I find more information about the outbreak?

A: Between October 1998 and February 1999, more than 100 people became ill and 21 people died around the country after eating hot dogs contaminated with a rare strain of Listeria monocytogenes -- the deadliest of all food-borne bacteria. Wiedmann's work led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta to determine the cause of the outbreak. Consequently, the contaminated hot dogs were recalled in what was to become one of history's largest food recalls. Find out more...

Q: Is there any significance to the fact that all of the patients have a compromising condition?

A: People with pre-existing medical problems, conditions such as pregnancy, chronic diabetes, HIV/AIDs infection, and leukemia, are most likely to end up in the hospital when suffering from a foodborne illness. Such added insults to their health can be life threatening. Thus it is important to find people in their community with the same compromising conditions when preparing for the matched-pairs analysis.

Q: If Listeria doesn't show up in the testing at the hotdog plant in September, why are people still getting sick in September?

A: Remember, the hotdogs had to get distributed, the vendors had to sell them, and the patients had to eat them before they could present with the symptoms you are examining. And, according to the FDA, "[t]he onset time to gastrointestinal symptoms is unknown but is probably greater than 12 hours." Moreover, "[t]he onset time to serious forms of listeriosis is unknown but may range from a few days to three weeks."

Q: How does the Pathogentracker system work?

A: Today's Pathogentracker is quite complex. The database tool used in the Pathogen Tracker Game is a simplified version of the first version of Pathogentracker. The version used in the game compares the digital images of the riboprints selected by the players with the same kinds of images that are currently uploaded to the system. This is an image processing function that literally compares the images pixel by pixel and determines how similar they are, much like the human eyes and brain work together to do such a comparison. One big advantage to the online system is the shared resource for these comparisons.