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Infectious diseases investigation

To investigate the notification of infectious disease, such as food poisoning, within the district.

We all get infections at some stage during our lives. The impact on our well being can be minor or very serious.

Fact - Did you know that campylobacter is the most common type of 'food poisoning' in the UK?

Symptoms include diarrhoea (sometimes bloody) and abdominal pain. Often, poultry is the cause, usually from undercooking or cross-contamination.

Infections and diseases can arise from a variety of sources, for example from micro-organisms, such as:

  • bacteria
  • viruses
  • parasites

Food poisoning and food borne illnesses

Most of us have suffered from eating something suspect, resulting in a trip to the toilet. But if you are or have been suffering from food poisoning you will know about it! Typically food poisoning takes a couple of days before onset of symptoms and it can be more than a week before symptoms end.

In most cases bacteria are responsible for causing food borne illnesses (such as campylobacter or salmonella), but not all. Other causes include:

  • Viruses. They can cause gastroenteritis, such as Norovirus - also known as 'winter vomiting disease' - problematic in hospitals, nursing homes, schools and cruise ships.
  • Mycotoxins. These can be carcinogenic - 'toxic mould' can affect some dried foods.
  • Poisonous plants and fish - like scombrotoxic fish poisoning.
  • Prions - an infectious agent resulting in nvCJD and BSE.

Notification and investigation

The Health Protection team are formally notified by local doctors and local hospitals when people living in the district are found to be suffering from food poisoning.

When these notifications are received the circumstances surrounding the illness are looked into to try to identify, where possible, the cause of the illness and to give advice so that more people do not become ill.

Therefore, we may contact anyone infected to try and establish what caused the illness. We will also offer advice to prevent others from becoming infected. For instance, people who work in a food business and handle food must not work whilst they have symptoms of food poisoning and must also inform their manager.

Infectious diseases commonly investigated

The infectious diseases most commonly investigated by the Health Protection Team are listed below:

Are you a food handler?

People who work around open food while suffering from certain infections (mainly from bacteria and viruses) can contaminate the food or surfaces the food may come into contact with. This can spread infection to other people through the food.

Key points:

  • Diarrhoea and/or vomiting are the main symptoms of illnesses that can be transmitted through food.
  • Staff handling food or working in a food handling area must report these symptoms to management immediately.
  • Managers must exclude staff with these symptoms from working with or around open food, normally for 48 hours from when symptoms stop naturally.

Different action is required in some cases, the Food Standards Agency "Food Handlers - fitness to work" guidance helps managers and staff to prevent the spread of infection by advising which illnesses and symptoms staff should report and what managers should do in response.

In addition, all staff who handle food and who work around open food must always wash and dry their hands before handling food, or surfaces likely to come into contact with food, especially after going to the toilet.

This is because it is possible to be infected but not have symptoms.

Schools and child care settings

Infection control is particularly important for schools, nurseries, child minders, playgroups and other similar settings. The Health Protection Agency have produced a document "Guidance on infection control in schools and childcare settings" which contains specific information on common illnesses, rashes, respiratory infections, immunisations etc.

Please contact the Health Protection Team on 01327 322281 or email health.protection@southnorthants.gov.uk if you need any further information.

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