Op-Ed

Health Department investigates food-borne illnesses

At issue | April 20 Herald-Leader news service story: "Food safety system lacking; Kentucky's among worst in country."

The front-page article from the New York Times News Service provided some details on how Kentucky handles investigations into food-borne illnesses. The Lexington-Fayette County Health Department aggressively investigates all reports of food-borne illnesses that might have originated in Lexington regardless of the person's residence, be it another county in Kentucky or another state or country.

The investigation starts as soon as the department is notified of the potential illness. This call needs to be made the day symptoms (including severe abdominal cramps, vomiting and diarrhea) are experienced. When notified, a department epidemiologist or environmental health specialist contacts the person to launch the investigation. A food history is obtained, and medical treatment and lab testing are discussed. Stool sample collection kits can be obtained from the department.

After background information is obtained, an environmental health specialist visits the food site and conducts a food service inspection. They focus on what the person ate and drank, identify food worker illnesses and try to find if any other patrons have reported an illness. If available, the department sends food samples to the state lab for analysis.

All food-borne illness complaints are tracked by department epidemiologists to see if there are possible connections. If there is a documented case of a food-borne illness, all people exposed to the food source are contacted.

Anyone who suspects they might have a food-borne illness should seek medical treatment as early as possible after showing symptoms. They should also call the health department's Environmental Health Division as soon as possible at (859) 231-9791 at anytime of day or night.

The department also needs support from local health care providers who see people seeking care for possible food-borne illnesses. Health providers should always collect a stool specimen and notify the health department as soon as possible so an investigation can be initiated. Providers can also call 231-9791 to report a possible or confirmed case.

The health department pays close attention to any reports of a food-borne illness and will continue to work hard to protect the health of the community.

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