Thursday, February 28, 2008

Institutional Outbreaks On Three Continents

Australia: Just a few days after New South Wales released the disturbing results of an audit of hospital kitchens in that state, authorities in South Australia have closed the pediatric ward of an Adelaide hospital, according to a report on today.

The action was taken following an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness that left 14 children and 3 staff members struggling with symptoms of diarrhea and vomiting. The symptoms are consistent with viral gastroenteritis, and health authorities suspect Norovirus.

The hospital has isolated victims of this outbreak, and has implemented infection control measures, according to Dr. John Turnidge, the director of the hospital's Division of Laboratory Medicine.

India: reported yesterday that 20 residents of a boy's high school in the village of Kukkundoor were taken to hospital as a result of an apparent outbreak of food poisoning. Eleven of the 20 victims were admitted. The boys began vomiting after breakfast, and suspicion has fallen on Tuesday evening's dinner as the source of the illness.

USA: WPTZ News reported this morning that three residents of the Horace Nye Nursing Home in Elizabethtown, N.Y. have died as the result of an outbreak of viral gastroenteritis – probably Norovirus. There was no indication of how many other patients or staff members may have been infected. The nursing home has been closed to the public until the outbreak has been eradicated.

Captive Audiences
Residents of nursing homes, boarding schools, assisted living facilities, and hospitals cannot control the way their food is prepared and handled. The responsibility for ensuring that meals are safe as well as nutritious rests with the management of these facilities and with the government agencies that oversee their operations. And the individuals charged with this responsibility are failing badly. In the United States alone, there were 762 outbreaks of gastroenteritis in long-term care facilities in the last three months of 2006 (the most recent data available from the CDC).

Some agencies, such as the State of Illinois Department of Public Health, periodically release a list of nursing homes that are in violation of government standards. Other government agencies – for example, the New South Wales Food Authority – protect the identity of failing institutions rather than releasing their names to the public.

There's something wrong with a system that makes it easier to learn the inspection history of a local restaurant in Southern California than to find out the sanitation track record of a hospital or nursing home.

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