Toronto now posting disease outbreaks online

by | Feb 25, 2014 | News

By Taylor Parsons

The City of Toronto has launched a website that posts weekly outbreaks of illness in hospitals, nursing homes and retirement homes.

The new public disclosure system comes after an investigation last August by the Toronto Star and Ryerson University. The investigation followed disease outbreaks between 2010-2013 at a Scarborough long-term care facility involving dozens of hospitalizations, five deaths, and in which 200 seniors were exposed to vomiting, dehydration and diarrhea, the Toronto Star reported Tuesday.

The new disclosure system posts outbreak reports every Thursday and details the nature of the disease involved, if the cause is known, the institution’s name and address, the day the outbreak was reported, and if the outbreak is still ongoing.

“I think it is a great idea. I think that the more knowledgeable everyone is the better,” said Catherine McKee, a registered nurse at Humber.

“Being transparent on what is happening in our long term care facilities and how we can help is very important,” she said.

“It is an opportunity to not only educate but to prevent spread. It is important to know how we can support them to decrease outbreak from occurring,” McKee said.

Humber News asked her if weekly reports were efficient enough, given how fast diseases can spread.

“Weekly is fine. It takes time for swabs and verification to occur. There are steps that are taken to ensure what it is that has been isolated is the same bacteria or virus — and ensure that proper reporting has occurred,” she said.

“We also do not want to cause mass panic when not necessary. This is a great first step.”

Media Relations Consultant Toronto Public Health, Kris Scheuer, told Humber News that most healthcare institutions are already posting their current outbreak information on their websites and post signage at their entrances whenever they have an outbreak.
“Toronto Public Health was already publicly disclosing outbreaks in institutions to the public upon request, so making this information more accessible on our website is a positive step towards greater transparency. Toronto Public Health’s goal is to promote better surveillance and greater transparency of outbreaks in institutions.” he said.
“Many institutions are pleased with our decision to post weekly public reports of institutional outbreaks on Toronto Public Health’s website and some thought we were already doing this,” he said.”A few institutions have expressed concern that those institutions which do a good job with surveillance and reporting of outbreaks would be unfairly seen as having a bigger problem when, in fact, they may have a more effective system of surveillance and reporting,” Scheuer said.
In the first report, which spans from Feb. 13-19, there were 15 outbreaks listed. At the time of the report’s publication, 10 outbreaks of disease were still active, and five cases were inactive.

Below is an interactive map version of the report, depicting the locations and details of the outbreaks. Red pegs show outbreaks currently active at time of publication, and blue pegs represent inactive cases.