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Who ya gonna call? Iowa outbreak busters launch hotline

Monday, October 17, 2016 22:31
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If you’ve got food poisoning, Iowa’s got your number — and its toll free — 844-IowaSic.

Patricia Quinlisk, medical director for the Iowa Department of Public Health, said the announcement of the number for the state’s new food poisoning detection and response initiative Monday should reduce the number of foodborne illnesses, citing the importance of early and accurate information to outbreak detection and investigation efforts.

“Once a call is made to the IowaSic hotline, 1-844-469-2742, trained specialists will begin an investigation into the cause and source of the illness, which could greatly reduce the number of ill Iowans,” Quinlisk said in a news release.

Iowa’s top doctor cited a cyclospora outbreak in 2013 that sickened at least 127 people across Iowa and other states as an example of how outbreak busters do their jobs and how information is their strongest tool.

During that outbreak, epidemiologists and food safety specialists worked with the State Hygienic Laboratory and were able to trace the cause of the Cyclospora outbreak to fresh produce grown and packaged in Mexico. The produce was distributed to a national restaurant chain where it eventually was consumed by patrons primarily in Iowa and Nebraska.

“Iowa was the first state to positively identify the cause of the outbreak, which permitted the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to trace it back to the source,” Quinlisk said in the release.

“Had the IowaSic hotline and supporting processes been in place in 2013, it’s possible the duration and impact of the outbreak could have been reduced.”

Patrick Quade, founder of the crowdsourced social platform, couldn’t agree more.

“Under-reporting of foodborne illness is a serious issue,” Quade said Monday. “Iowa’s initiative is a great step, and I expect it will improve surveillance and coordination within the state, and have a positive impact.”

Quade launched the site after he was a victim of food poisoning. It is designed to allow real-time reporting of food safety issues by consumers. Public health officials across the country are paying attention.

“This efficient, easy to use platform captures reports throughout the United States and globally,” Quade said. “It is in use by health departments in 70 percent of U.S. cities and has helped detect outbreaks.”

Some of the questions consumers are asked to answer on are exactly what public health specialists answering the hotline at 844-IowaSic will be asking. Department of health staff will handle the hotline calls and ask about symptoms’ onset and duration, and take down a history of all foods callers consumed in the days before becoming ill.

Illnesses associated with foods purchased from or consumed at food establishments will be investigated by staff in Iowa Department of Inspections and Appeals, which is partnering with the Iowa Department of Health on the hotline and the food poisoning detection and response initiative.

“Food poisoning happens after eating or drinking contaminated foods or beverages, and occur at any time throughout the food preparation process, including growing, distribution processes, storage, cooking, and service,” according to the news release.

“Often, foodborne illness is the result of cross-contamination, poor hygiene, or improper heating and cooling of prepared foods. If you suspect food poisoning after consuming an item from a restaurant, grocery store, convenience store, market or public gathering, call IDPH’s IowaSic hotline at 844-469-2742.”


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