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AP Top Georgia Headlines at 3:02 a.m. EDT

Woman who stole from Georgia doctors pleads guilty

Family: Delta tied woman with disability to wheelchair

Pandora to create 250 jobs in Atlanta

Judge accused of asking to pull funds from court registry

Colleges to compete in UAW-Ford sponsored debate in Detroit

Genetic sleuthing bolsters food poisoning searches

ATLANTA (AP) - Disease hunters are using genetic sequencing in their investigation of the ongoing food poisoning outbreak linked to romaine lettuce, a technique that is revolutionizing the detection of germs in food.

The genetic analysis is being used to bolster investigations and - in some cases - connect the dots between what were once seemingly unrelated illnesses. It also is uncovering previously unfathomed sources of food poisoning, including one outbreak from apples dipped in caramel.

So far, most of the work has largely focused on one germ, listeria. But it is expanding. By the end of this year, labs in all 50 states are expected to also be using genetic sequencing for much more common causes of food poisoning outbreaks, including salmonella and the E. coli bacteria linked to recent lettuce outbreak.

That means the number of identifiable outbreaks are likely to explode even if the number of illnesses don't.

"There are a lot of outbreaks where they don't connect the dots. Now they're going to be connected," said Michael Doyle, a retired University of Georgia professor who is an expert on foodborne illness.

Not only that: The new DNA testing is enabling disease detectives to spot food contamination before anyone is aware of a resulting human illness - the equivalent of starting a murder investigation by finding a gun first and then looking for someone with a gunshot wound.

"It's turning around how outbreaks are figured out," said Bill Marler, a prominent Seattle lawyer who has made a business of suing companies whose products sicken people.

Marler added that the program is in its early stages and it's too early to call it a success. But he said the new approach has the potential to transform how and when outbreaks come to light.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is driving the program. It estimates that 48 million Americans get sick - and 3,000 die - from food poisoning each year.

The new technique relies on whole genome sequencing, which has been used in biology for more than two decades. The laboratory process determines nearly all of an organism's DNA, the genetic material needed to build and maintain an organism. And scientists use software to compare the DNA of specimens to see if they are the same strain and how resistant they are to current medicines.

The technique allows the analysis to become faster, cheaper and more automated, said Dr. Robert Tauxe, one of the CDC's leading experts on food poisoning.

Plans are to use the technology against several germs that cause food poisoning, but so far all the work has concentrated on listeria. The bacteria cause around 1,600 illnesses each year, a tiny fraction of U.S. foodborne disease diagnoses. But it is a particularly lethal infection, killing nearly one in five people who get it.

Historically, listeria-caused outbreaks were known as "the graveyard of epidemiology." It could take weeks for people to develop symptoms, meaning food evidence was discarded - and some of the patients were dead - by the time officials began to sort things out.

From 1983 to 1997, only five listeria outbreaks were identified in the United States. They were obvious and large - with a median of 54 cases per outbreak.

That's how it was with other food poisoning outbreaks, too.

"Most foodborne outbreaks were detected because it happened in one place," like in a town where a popular restaurant's customers grew ill, Tauxe said.

Outbreaks were investigated by asking people what they ate before they got sick, and then comparing notes to see what patients had in common.

The field took a big step in the 1990s, after a frightening outbreak erupted in the Seattle area. Four deaths and more than 700 illnesses in four states eventually were traced to undercooked Jack in the Box restaurant hamburgers contaminated with E. coli.

The outbreak prodded the CDC to develop a program that relied on a technique called pulsed-field gel electrophoresis in which investigators could look at a germ's DNA in clumps. It helped health officials more easily link illnesses, but it was imperfect: It couldn't make exact matches and sometimes missed when cases were related.

Then came whole genome sequencing.

The CDC began using the technique in food poisoning investigations in 2013. Initially state labs sent samples to a CDC lab in Atlanta for testing. Now, the CDC is working to get labs in all 50 states up and running.

Last year, the federal agency awarded about $32 million to state and city health departments to work on foodborne, waterborne and fungal disease outbreaks. That included $12 million to help them set up whole genome sequencing technology.

Since whole genome sequencing began, the CDC says it's catching more listeria outbreaks with a food source identified. By that measure, the number rose from about two per year to an average of more than six per year from 2014 to 2016.

One of the first success stories came a couple of weeks after Halloween in 2014, when listeria cases began popping up in Arizona, New Mexico and the Midwest. Through whole genome sequencing, investigators discovered about three dozen people had been sickened.

In interviews, patients and their families didn't mention foods commonly associated with listeria. But most did say they had eaten packaged caramel apples.

Scientists hadn't considered them a threat, because apples and caramel aren't hospitable to listeria individually. But it turns out that putting a stick in a caramel-covered apple gives germs a door into tiny spaces between caramel and the apple's skin.

Besides fingering foods previously seen as unthreatening, whole genome sequencing has the potential to turn investigations around: In several outbreaks recently, germs found in food plant inspections prompted product recalls before anyone knew about an outbreak. Then whole genome sequencing helped find and confirm illnesses.

In 2015, state officials in South Carolina and Texas found listeria in tests of Blue Bell-brand ice cream products. Investigators used pulsed-field gel electrophoresis to find 11 illnesses with a similar genetic pattern, but whole genome sequencing definitively linked 10 and caused one to be tossed out as unrelated. Some of the illnesses had happened as far back as 2010.

"They're picking up cases that are five years old. This is revolutionary," Doyle said.

Whole genome sequencing is becoming increasingly important, but it's not yet the basis of outbreak solving. It was used in the current investigation of E. coli bacteria found in romaine lettuce grown in Arizona, which has sickened at least 84 people in 19 states, according to a CDC update released Wednesday. But "that's not how we first detected the outbreak," said Matthew Wise, a CDC food poisoning investigator.

It was more crucial in an investigation last year of a 21-state salmonella outbreak that ultimately was linked to ground beef. Whole genome sequencing allowed health officials to wade through a wave of cases to parse out the illnesses that were most closely matched and then look for a common origin, Wise said.

"Using our previous technology," Wise said, "we would have had a really difficult time solving that one."

___

AP video journalist Robert Ray in Atlanta contributed to this report.

___

This Associated Press series was produced in partnership with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute's Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Winning numbers drawn in 'Cash 3 Night' game

ATLANTA (AP) _ The winning numbers in Wednesday evening's drawing of the Georgia Lottery's "Cash 3 Night" game were:

4-4-9

(four, four, nine)

Winning numbers drawn in 'Cash 4 Night' game

ATLANTA (AP) _ The winning numbers in Wednesday evening's drawing of the Georgia Lottery's "Cash 4 Night" game were:

6-1-6-1

(six, one, six, one)

Winning numbers drawn in 'Fantasy 5' game

ATLANTA (AP) _ The winning numbers in Wednesday evening's drawing of the Georgia Lottery's "Fantasy 5" game were:

02-07-10-28-42

(two, seven, ten, twenty-eight, forty-two)

Winning numbers drawn in 'Powerball' game

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) _ The winning numbers in Wednesday evening's drawing of the "Powerball" game were:

17-18-39-56-64, Powerball: 12, Power Play: 3

(seventeen, eighteen, thirty-nine, fifty-six, sixty-four; Powerball: twelve; Power Play: three)

___ Online: Multi-State Lottery Association: http://www.powerball.com/

Mike Budenholzer out as coach of Atlanta Hawks

ATLANTA (AP) - Mike Budenholzer wanted to coach elsewhere. The Atlanta Hawks finally agreed it's a good idea.

The Hawks and Budenholzer mutually agreed to part ways Wednesday in a move announced by the team in a three-sentence statement.

The decision was not totally unexpected as Budenholzer was granted permission to interview with other teams even though he is under contract with the Hawks for two more seasons.

According to multiple reports, Budenholzer interviewed with the Phoenix Suns for their vacant coaching position last week before withdrawing his name from consideration. Budenholzer now may be a top candidate to coach the New York Knicks.

Budenholzer was 213-192 in the regular season and 17-22 in the playoffs in five seasons with Atlanta. The Hawks were an Eastern Conference-worst 24-58 this season.

The Hawks' free-fall from a franchise-record 60 wins only three years ago to the bottom of the conference this season was startling. The team's streak of 10 straight playoff seasons ended, but Budenholzer still carried the respect needed to earn interest from other teams looking for a coach.

Even this season, when the Hawks tied with Dallas for the NBA's third-worst record, they were rarely blown out. They lost 21 games by fewer than 10 points, with only seven losses by 20 or more points.

Always passionate on the bench, at times to the point of earning rebukes from officials, Budenholzer showed no sign of giving up on the team.

"I love what I do," Budenholzer said on April 11, one day after the end of the disappointing regular season. "I love this team. I'm focused on what we just did and how we can get better going forward."

Golden State coach Steve Kerr, who played for the Spurs when Budenholzer was Gregg Popovich's longtime assistant, said last month he has borrowed from Budenholzer's strategy.

"I didn't really pick his brain but I definitely picked his playbook," Kerr said. "I really did. Some of that is through Pop. They ran a lot of the San Antonio stuff when they got here to Atlanta. That's the derivative. ... He's taken a lot of that San Antonio stuff and expanded on it and I've definitely stolen some stuff from him."

Budenholzer was named NBA coach of the year for the 2014-15 season, when he led the Hawks to their first 60-win season, a division title and their first appearance in the Eastern Conference finals.

He was promoted to president of basketball operations but then gave up that title when Travis Schlenk was hired as general manager in 2017. The loss of power may have been the first step in Budenholzer's exit.

The Hawks' inability to retain such top players as Al Horford and Paul Milsap led to the team's rapid decline. The Hawks fell to the bottom of the conference while leaning heavily on rookie center John Collins, second-year forward Taurean Prince and point guard Dennis Schroder.

The Hawks have scheduled a news conference with Schlenk for Thursday.

Schlenk declined an interview request from The Associated Press.

___

For more AP NBA coverage: https://apnews.com/tag/NBAbasketball

Acuna singles, scores in MLB debut, Braves beat Reds 5-4

CINCINNATI (AP) - Prized prospect Ronald Acuna Jr. looked like a polished veteran.

The 20-year-old Acuna singled and scored the tying run in the eighth inning of his big league debut, and the Atlanta Braves went on to beat the Cincinnati Reds 5-4 Wednesday night.

Acuna became the youngest player in the majors when he was called up from Triple-A before the game. He went 1 for 5 and played left field.

"As soon as I hit the field, I felt at home," Acuna said through a translator. "I felt comfortable."

Atlanta manager Brian Snitker saw no signs of nerves from his prodigy.

"I thought he was really good," Snitker said. "Nothing affected him. He wasn't overwhelmed. He went out and played his game."

Acuna asked for jersey No. 13, following fellow Venezuelans Dave Concepcion, Ozzie Guillen and Omar Vizquel. The newcomer twice flied out deep, and struck out twice.

Ozzie Albies, the second-youngest player in the bigs at 21, homered for Atlanta. He was hit by a pitch to begin the ninth and scored on the go-ahead run on Johan Camargo's second double of the game, a sharp one-hopper that shortstop Cliff Pennington couldn't backhand.

"If you put the ball in play, good things can happen," Snitker said.

Camargo drove in two runs and Ender Inciarte had three hits for the Braves, who led 3-0 after four innings. Acuna scored on Kurt Suzuki's two-out single in the eighth to make it 4-all.

Jesse Biddle allowed three hits over two scoreless innings, Dan Winkler (1-0) pitched a perfect eighth and A.J. Minter worked the ninth for his first career save.

Kevin Shackelford (0-1) took the loss in his first appearance of the season since coming off the disabled list. The Reds dropped to 5-19, matching the 1931 team for the worst 24-game start in club history.

Joey Votto's two-run drive, his second homer in two nights, got the Reds on the board in the fifth.

Reds starter Brandon Finnegan, who opened the season on the disabled list with a strained left biceps, allowed two earned in five innings.

"We made it tough on Brandon Finnegan," manager Jim Riggleman said. "We missed a couple opportunities and fell behind early but we scored four after missing a couple. It came back to bite us."

Braves starter Matt Wisler was roughed up for nine hit and four runs in five innings.

REVIEW GIVETH

Adam Duvall was called out to end the fifth inning while trying to score the tying run from first on Scott Schebler's double, but a video review requested by the Reds led to the call being overturned after a 2-minute, 10-second look.

GIVETH II

A 33-second video review showed that Nick Markakis beat out what originally was ruled to be a double-play grounder with nobody out in the Atlanta ninth.

FAST PACE

Albies' fifth-inning home run was his seventh of the season. He hit six in 57 games last season.

MISSED OPPORTUNITIES

The Reds loaded the bases in the first inning with three hard-hit singles but squandered the opportunity with Scooter Gennett's short flyout and the slumping Duvall's double-play grounder. Duvall is 2 for 25 over his last seven games. They also failed to score after loading the bases with one out in the seventh.

WELCOME BACK

Umpire CB Bucknor returned after leaving Monday's game and missing Tuesday's game with an illness. Bucknor umpired at first base.

TRAINER'S ROOM

Reds: 3B Eugenio Suarez is 1 for 5 with a double and two walks in the first two games of his rehab assignment with Triple-A Louisville. He went on the disabled list on April 9 with a fractured right thumb.

UP NEXT

Braves: LHP Sean Newcomb (1-1, 3.74) is Atlanta's scheduled starter in Thursday's finale of the four-game series.

Reds: Hard-luck RHP Homer Bailey (0-3, 3.68), whose ERA is the best of Cincinnati's starters, is due to start the final game of Cincinnati's brief four-game homestand.

The Atlanta Hawks and coach Mike Budenholzer have mutually agreed to part ways.

ATLANTA (AP) - The Atlanta Hawks and coach Mike Budenholzer have mutually agreed to part ways.

Winning numbers drawn in 'All or Nothing Night' game

ATLANTA (AP) _ The winning numbers in Wednesday evening's drawing of the Georgia Lottery's "All or Nothing Night" game were:

01-02-05-06-08-10-11-12-13-19-21-22

(one, two, five, six, eight, ten, eleven, twelve, thirteen, nineteen, twenty-one, twenty-two)

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