E.coli and norovirus outbreaks…they’re involved. Restaurant and building inspections…they’re involved. Monitoring of spas, day cares, swimming pools and tattoo parlours…they’re involved. Who are these busy individuals? They are Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) with Alberta Health Services-Environmental Public Health (AHS-EPH) and they work to provide, protect and promote a healthy environment. And they were recently acknowledged for their efforts.
One EHO team within AHS-EPH, the Disease Control Program, has been recognized for outstanding work in helping improve the health of all Albertans. They were awarded the 2014 Alexander Officer Award by the Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspectors for their work in public health investigations of communicable diseases and outbreaks across Alberta. This province-wide team works together to benefit Albertans. While, also working in partnership with other provincial and federal organizations investigating outbreaks that cross borders.
The Alexander Officer Award is presented to an organization that demonstrates outstanding achievements in the field of public or environmental health. This award is given based on exceptional performance for a specific project, innovation and excellence in program development and/or management. It also includes leadership and development of community participation in environmental health programs.
“This award acknowledges the hard work and dedication of AHS’s Environmental Public Health team to protect the health of all Albertans,” said Darcy Garchinski, Manager, Edmonton Zone for Environmental Public Health “The team is committed to investigating and discovering the causes of communicable diseases and outbreaks in Alberta.”
As part of their winning nomination, their work during the 2012 multi-provincial E. coli O157:H7 outbreak associated with beef from XL Foods was highlighted. The program was the first agency in the country to link outbreak cases to beef that was traced back to the implicated facility. The program rapidly identified mechanical tenderization of beef as a contributing factor in outbreak illnesses, which led to a high profile, national-level discussion on the issue.
In 2013, the program was also involved in the multi-provincial E. coli O157:H7 outbreak associated with unpasteurized Gouda cheese from Gort’s Gouda Cheese Farm, BC. Again, they were the first agency in the country to link outbreak cases to cheese produced at the implicated facility.
They were also selected by the federal government as the third Canadian site for the “FoodNet Canada” initiative, which was developed to reduce food and water-borne gastrointestinal illness through enhanced surveillance in different areas across Canada. This selection demonstrated the strength of the program—the enhanced surveillance carried out by the Alberta team will contribute to preventing food and water-borne illnesses across the country.
Finally, AHS-EPH contributed significantly to the development and implementation of the first integrated human and animal tick surveillance program in Alberta, which has provided a better understanding of the risks of Lyme disease to Albertans.
All of these achievements were highlighted during an annual award ceremony in St. John’s, NL.