Foodborne Illnesses Under Investigation By Health Dept. -Brevard NC


August 2, 2018

Reports of foodborne illnesses continued Wednesday afternoon as Transylvania Public Health (TPH) investigated the possible cause.

TPH began receiving calls about cases Monday morning, according to Tara Rybka, a TPH spokesperson, and staff is working with Transylvania Regional Hospital to find a common illness and source.

“We’ve activated epidemiological invest-igation to find links and to try to identify the source,” Rybka said Wednesday. “In that process, we go back several days into food exposure history, though we have not found a source yet.”

Simultaneously, she said, the department is aware of social media posts, such as on the “We Are Brevard” Facebook page, in which several people are naming local fast food restaurants as the source of his or her illness.

“We are aware of the rumors of a link to a local establishment, and because we have received complaints and seen social media posts, our environmental health staff is also investigating the complaint, but at this point we can’t draw any conclusions,” she said. “We have two separate processes going on: investigating actual cases reported by the hospital, and another to investigate the complaints we’ve received. Though, at this point, we can’t name any facility or common source.”

As of Wednesday, she said TPH had received more reports, both from the hospital and from individuals.

“What we are seeing common is rapid onset, in which someone is feeling OK and then, all of the sudden, that person gets severe vomiting and diarrhea,” Rybka said.

In this kind of investigation, she said, the department must get the “whole picture.”

“We have a team of three to four nurses investigating, calling all the people who have been seen by medical providers, and going back into their food exposure history, and we are waiting on lab results to confirm what this is,” she said.

The environmental health staff, she said, did investigate a local restaurant and is offering “technical assistance,” which involves environmental health specialists assisting the restaurant in locating food violations and conducting the right cleaning protocols.

“That’s something we would do anytime there is a complaint from the community,” she said.

Among the social media posts were multiple mentions of the McDonald’s restaurant in Brevard but, again, Rybka could not confirm or deny if it was being investigated.

As of 1:45 p.m., Wednesday, the McDonald’s was closed.

The restaurant is owned by the Chuck Edwards Group, which is based in Hendersonville. The owners had not returned calls for comment as of going to press Wednesday.

As far as how many reports TPH has received, Rybka said there was no “actual number.”

“I don’t have a number right now because it’s going to be updated 10 minutes from now, and those reports might not be related,” she said Wednesday.

The investigation process itself, she said, involves “narrowing down” what the pathogen is, using time frames provided.

“One disease may have a window that makes people sick within six to 12 hours after exposure, and another may have a window that’s 12 to 24 hours,” she said.

Rybka said they look to when people first start getting sick and try to narrow it down to a common meal or a common item at a restaurant.

“There are lots of ways people can get exposed to foodborne disease, including from other people,” she said. “I guess what we are looking to now is if this is widespread in the community, if it is something that can be spread from person to person, and is the next thing we are going to start seeing are household contacts getting sick?”

Her current concern is the spread of the illness.

“There were lots of people sick Monday night, and now it’s Wednesday and we are still getting reports,” Rybka said. “If this is something that is being spread from person to person, then we are going to probably start seeing household contacts getting sick. So, that’s what I’m working on (Wednesday) morning is trying to get the word out on how to clean up after vomiting and diarrhea occurs, and how to keep yourself protected.”

Prevention and Cleaning

Hand washing, she said, is the best line of defense.

“Wash hands frequently with soap and warm water after any visit to the bathroom and before and after preparing food and drink,” she said. “We know that alcohol-based sanitizers are not as effective.”

When sick, use bleach-based household cleaners, but never use concentrated bleach.

“Diluted bleach works best on anything that came in contact, especially when diarrhea and vomiting was involved, and wash clothes and towels in hot water,” she said. “It’s also important to understand that, when someone vomits, there are particles that contain that disease that are dispersed into the air. If you are standing next to someone vomiting and you smell it, you have been exposed to the disease.”

It’s easier to catch than people think, she said.

“People will wipe something down with a little wipe, but you really need to use bleach-based solutions, and if you used gloves to clean up, those gloves need to be trashed, and you still need to wash your hands,” she said. “The other thing is, if sick, don’t go to work or school, because that’s how illnesses spread and continue to spread.”

Even if someone is feeling better, Rybka said, the disease can still be active after 24 to 48 hours and before.

“You could still be shedding that disease,” she said, “and you can be spreading the disease before you feel any symptoms at all.”

After getting sick, people tend to blame what they ate two hours before, but Rybka said only toxins act that quickly.

“It’s not the bacteria that you are eating, it’s the bacteria that’s been in the food and produced a toxin, and the toxin is making you sick, or there was a chemical exposure that’s making you sick quickly,” she said, “In most cases of foodborne illness there is a six to 48 or more hour window before you get sick.”

Outbreaks that have occurred in the past can sometimes be traced to one source based on a time window.

“Say there was a party and everyone at the party ate the same dish, that’s an easy scenario that gives us an way to narrow something down,” she said. “Then there are food recalls to look at, such as when we find someone ate something recalled, such as lettuce or a hamburger or potato salad.

“What we are finding right now is a diverse food history, and some things are popping up more than others, but we’ve yet to find a common source, and until we have all the lab results in, we don’t know.”

Rybka said the message she wants to get out is for people to wash his or her hands, and to use bleach to clean after vomiting and diarrhea, and to be careful of dehydration.

“If it’s becoming difficult to keep fluids in your body when sick, seek medical attention,” she said.

If you experienced sudden nausea, vomiting and diarrhea in the past few days, contact TPH at (828) 884-3135.


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