Enteric Sickness in Schools Often Has Foodborne Source

Majority of outbreaks have a bacterial etiology

FRIDAY, Feb. 11 (HealthDay News) -- Outbreaks of gastrointestinal illnesses among students frequently stem from a foodborne source and are mostly bacterial in nature; hand washing is often recommended to prevent outbreaks, according to a study published in the December issue of the Journal of School Health.

Marilyn B. Lee, from Ryerson University in Toronto, and Judy D. Greig, R.N., from the Public Health Agency of Canada in Guelph, reviewed data from 1998 to 2008 of gastrointestinal illness outbreaks in schools. Their goal was to identify etiology, mode of transmission, number of children sickened, and morbidity and mortality associated with these outbreaks. They also sought to track interventions implemented for the control and prevention of such occurrences.

The researchers found that, of the 121 outbreaks they reviewed, 51 percent were bacterial, 40 percent were viral, 7 percent were from Crytosporidium, and 2 percent were from multiple organisms. Transmission routes were documented in 101 cases and found to be 45 percent foodborne, 16 percent person-to-person, 12 percent waterborne, and 11 percent the result of animal contact. The actions that were taken to control these outbreaks varied, as 13 percent alerted medical and public health authorities, 12 percent treated the cases, 11 percent improved hand washing, and 8 percent increased vigilance during food preparation.

"Training and certification of food handlers, stressing the importance of temperature control, proper storage of food, adequate cooking, and hand washing, could prevent foodborne outbreaks in schools," the authors write.

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