October – Public Health: Protecting You Behind the Scenes

Written by Communications, November 5, 2019

Peterborough Public Health is mandated by Ontario’s Health Promotion and Protection Act (HPPA) to detect and effectively address threats to your health, as they arise. We have your back, and you probably don’t even realize it. Most of our work is invisible – it happens every day, round the clock, weekends as well as week days without you even noticing. But once in a while, our health protection efforts come to light, as was the case recently with our closure of a dental clinic because of a lapse in infection prevention and control practices.

Threats to human health come in all shapes and sizes, so a variety of tools and strategies are necessary.  Sometimes our behind-the-scenes work takes the form of a Public Health Nurse responding to a human case of a disease like TB or bacterial meningitis to make sure their contacts are safe and the infection does not spread. If there is a vaccine available, we may go to a school or other site to offer immunizations in order to protect contacts. Sometimes it means keeping someone away from workplaces like hospitals, daycares or restaurants until they are no longer contagious. And sometimes it looks more like getting free treatment for diseases like syphilis, or accessing confidential testing for infections like HIV so that people know their status, get treated and take the necessary precautions.

In fact, you may have received a call from us – within 24 hours of the event, people who are bitten by an animal are contacted by one of our inspectors to make sure the threat of rabies is addressed. Last year, we investigated over 330 animal bites. I recently spoke with a couple of families on a weekend who had been exposed to measles at a conference out of town, to provide them with some advice. And last year, in response to a call from the hospital, an Inspector and I went door to door in a Peterborough multi-unit residence to provide seniors with Tamiflu, a medication to prevent influenza. The practice of public health can be unpredictable and usually flies well below the radar – unless we call or knock on your door.

Much of our day to day public health response is proactive and governed by protocols that ensure consistency across the province. Regardless of where you live, all food premises, all personal service settings like hair salons and tattoo studios, all small drinking water operators, all tobacco vendors, all public pools, splash pads and spas are categorized by risk, and inspected proactively by Public Health Inspectors (PHIs). In 2018, we made over 1,400 inspections of food premises alone. You can find the results on our website, at www.peterboroughpublichealth.ca and clicking on Inspections at the top of the page.

Our PHIs are highly trained, and certified professionals, taking an educational approach in their work with operators and owners to promote greater knowledge and understanding as a cornerstone for cooperation. But if needed, they also have powers under the HPPA to take immediate action to protect the health of the public.

We investigate all potential health hazards that are reported to us, from indoor mould to faulty septic systems. There were 290 of these in 2018. When it comes to medical and dental offices, public health is not mandated to routinely inspect so we only follow up when there has been a complaint to us by a member of the public. If we find only minor problems, we will work with the operator to correct them. If the problems pose a risk to the health of patients, we take immediate action and close the facility until the problem is addressed. Usually, the health care provider is keen to collaborate in the best interests of his or her patients.

Of course, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, especially when it comes to health protection. That is why we offer the Safe Food Handling course to all members of the public; why we keep our website up to date with links to credible sources of information, why we promote radon testing for homes, and deliver almost 100,000 doses of vaccines every year. I am extremely proud of all PPH’s staff, who bring their expertise, dedication and empathy to their public health roles each and every day, whether you notice, or not.