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  • YaoWang 4:28 pm on November 4, 2015 Permalink | Reply  

    Grocery store loyalty cards help B.C. disease detectives trace hepatitis A outbreak 

    Hepatitis A virus can cause Hepatitis A, which is a potentially serious form of liver disease by attacking the liver. Non-travel-related hepatitis A infection is rare in North America as the virus is usually found in developing countries with very poor sanitary conditions and hygiene practices.

    It often takes a long time to recognize that a food-borne disease outbreak is underway because cases can be dispersed geographically. Taking into consideration that the incubation period of hepatitis A is usually 14 to 28 days, it can be difficult to find the source since people cannot recall with precision what they ate weeks earlier.

    An example of successful investigation is the recall of hepatitis A contaminated pomegranate seeds in British Columbia in early 2012 by comparing the foods the infected people had bought in previous months. Those food purchasing histories were compiled from their crockery story loyalty cards, pomegranate seeds in a frozen fruit mix were eventually identified as the source of the infection. At a very early stage, with only six cases, the investigators were able to see that the infected people had purchased the same brand of a frozen fruit mix containing blueberries, strawberries, cherries and pomegranate seeds. The following test eventually showed that on e lot of pomegranate seeds from the supplier was contaminated with hepatitis A and a recall was ordered.
    “It certainly did make it easier and it allowed us to identify, to really land on a specific product really very early in the outbreak,” Dr. Helena Swinkels of Fraser Health Authority says of the access to the patients’ purchasing history through their loyalty card data, “Loyalty cards are one tool that definitely can help investigations of food-borne outbreaks.”

    Although hepatitis A is rare in Canada and the few cases recorded each year generally are in people travelling in or returning from countries where the virus circulates, occasionally someone who becomes infected will transmit it to others in Canada. Therefore, it is necessary for the public to understand its transmission pathway and the prevention methods.

    -Faecal-oral route
    -Waterborne outbreaks, infrequent, usually associated with sewage-contaminated or inadequately treated water.
    -Close physical contact with an infectious person, although casual contact among people does not spread the virus.

    -Improved sanitation, food safety and immunization are the most effective ways to combat hepatitis A.
    -Several hepatitis A vaccines are available internationally.


    • CandiceZheng 2:55 pm on November 5, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Using the loyalty card is a very interesting and a new way to track the food that is responsible for the food pathogens. Although there might be some privacy concerns, the information era do help us a lot.

    • Susanna Ko 11:36 pm on November 6, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      That’s really interesting. I wonder if they use credit card and debit card tracking to trace back those who purchase affected foods as well. It’s also scary that Hepatitis A is found in berry mixes, in which consumers will make smoothies and drink it raw.

    • yichen25 1:35 am on November 7, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Wow, I never thought that grocery’s loyalty card can play such a huge role in a recall investigation. Since it is such an efficient tool to be used to track food purchase history, perhaps they can adopt this method and use it in a larger scale. For example, the Government can come up with initiative to propose a card system where consumers track their food purchase history nationwide. This can be done in collaboration with grocery stores and restaurants.

    • RainShen 2:24 pm on November 8, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      This is the first time I heard that grocery store loyalty cards can help investigate the foodborne illness infection and recall. Actually this can be applied widely to even restaurants since a big portion of the foodborne illness happen in the restaurants. Since many customers would not pay attention to the food safety news or the recall announcement after they purchase the food products, they may still consume the infected foods which have been recalled. I think if a tracing back system can be built up using loyalty cards will be very useful.

    • angel519 8:08 pm on November 8, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I agree with Yichen that the Government can utilize a card system to track consumers food purchase history. If a person got sick, they can quickly identify the suspicion food product; and if an outbreak happens, this system can group all the patients food record and find out the common food product. If this card system is in use, it will speed up the foodborne illness investigation process and reduce in personnel costs.

    • DeniseZhang 10:57 pm on November 12, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I think this is very interesting. Never thought that the loyalty cards could help to trace back the purchases, as we only regard this as a method of saving money. I guess after this outbreak many people started to get a loyalty card not just for saving money but for health issues (just kidding). However, I am quite curious about those who did/do not have a loyalty card. How to trace them down then?

    • MarinaMoon 2:36 am on November 13, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      It’s really interesting to see that loyalty cards played a very important role in detecting the virus. As hepatitis A viruses can result in serious liver damage, it’s good to hear that it has been detected early in the outbreak. I also agree with Yichen with having cards that can track grocery listings and other food consumptions made by an individual. This would help the detection method a lot faster and lead to better prevention in the future. Since there are more and more pathogens that are developing in food and increased number of outbreaks around the world, these kind of implementation seem very efficient.

    • WinnieLiao 11:02 am on November 18, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Thankfully that non-travel-related Hepatitis A is uncommon in North America, but there is definitely still a need to be aware of it! It’s interesting how loyalty cards can be helpful in an outbreak investigation! Tracing back the purchase and recalling the product can definitely helpful. It would be a helpful too if the customer signed up as a member, in addition to collecting points and benefits, the system records the products that the customer has purchased. Maybe in this way the recalls can be easier done because the personal information of the customer can quickly be found.

    • Stephanie Chen 5:25 pm on November 19, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I agree with Susanna that it is quite scary to know frozen berries may be contaminated with Hepatitis A. Many consume this type of product raw without awareness that it may even be a source of foodborne pathogens at all. This is also a very interesting way of finding the source of outbreak! By searching for a common thread among purchasing records, the time of investigation can really be shortened. Maybe because of this, customers would be more willing to put down their actual information when having to fill out forms at food retails stores as well!

    • meggyli 10:21 pm on November 27, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      This is such an innovative and simple way of tracking our diet records I can’t believe no one has thought of it before! Thank you for the eye opening article. One of the largest hurdles to correctly identifying the source of a foodborne outbreak is the patients being unable to recall food they have eaten a while ago, especially for pathogens with a long incubation period. By being able to access their shopping record can no doubt prompt their memories if not recall completely. We can even make this a larger-scale project by having all sorts of supermarkets and restaurants participate, in which the consumer may have the option of recording down their purchase every time they visit. Not only will this benefit health officials and merchants, consumers can also benefit from being able to recall their favorite food from favorite places at a moment’s notice. Personal information exploitation, however, is still a concern, which should be tightly regulated if this were to happen.

    • CindyDai 6:02 pm on December 1, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I never know that grocery membership cards can be used in outbreak investigation, and it really inspires me of how creative data collection could be. As Dr. Wang said in the Big Data lecture, the way of thinking is consistently changing. How to discover potential source of data has recently become crucial in systematic problem solving. Even after data collection, the 4V of the data could also influence the final outcome. People should take more advantages of Big Data, and invent more applications of Big Data in food safety survellence and outbreak investigation.

    • dgozali 1:54 am on December 5, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I love how creative this method is used in investigating an outbreak! Its not only simple but also very accurate way of obtaining the necessary information. Just as meggyli mentioned, people might not be able to remember what food they have consumed if they were asked in a questionnaire. Thank you for sharing this interesting article!

    • AngeliMalimban 7:05 pm on December 12, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      It is amazing that in our day and age, there are so many pathways to receive information. Customers normally sign up for loyalty cards thinking about only the benefits that come to them (at least, this is how the stores sell their cards… that’s how I got suckered in to signing up for so many). However, it should be known that this data is used to help them decide what is best for their customers and the benefits that we get is how they get us to sign up. This is great how it helps find sources of foodborne disease outbreaks because as meggyli mentioned, it is hard to recall food from questionnaires, making it more time consuming to finding the cause of an outbreak. I just wonder if the customers were told that this is how the outbreak was determined before the article came out, and if they felt that it was a breach of privacy…

    • Ya Gao 9:40 pm on December 15, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      It is such a clever way to use loyalty cards to investigate into food borne outbreaks! i never thought about this and never knew that they have my purchase history on file when I use my loyalty cards. Hepatitis A is not a trendy food borne disease in North America and vaccination is available to prevent the disease. But once it breaks out, I believe it could be a huge problem since it can transmit through close physical contact with an infectious person and the incubation period is relatively long. It is the quick action of the authority that stopped the situation from becoming serious. Using data from loyalty card to trace the source of an outbreak is a great tragedy to apply to future investigations.

  • laurenrappaport 2:59 pm on November 4, 2015 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: Brazil, , ,   

    Dangerously High Levels of Viruses in Olympic Waters 


    The upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics will be held in Rio de Janiero (Rio). Brazil is the first South American country to host the Olympic games. However, currently, the sanitation state of the city is creating major concern as it may interfere with the athlete’s safety to compete in some sporting events. Brazil has been facing sanitation issues with their water for many years now. Currently, the waters in which sporting activities will take place are filled with human feces and garbage putting athletes at a huge risk of illness and attracting infectious diseases such as norovirus or hepatitis A virus (HAV). 10,000 athletes and thousands of tourists will be gathering in Rio to take part in the Olympics next August. 1,400 of these athletes will be competing in sports such as rowing, canoeing, sailing, triathlons and long distance swimming, all of which will be experiencing high exposure to the contaminated waters.

    An Associated Press (AP) analysis of the water quality from three Olympic sites was performed and revealed extremely dangerous levels of both viruses and bacteria. The test results showed that the virus and bacterial levels present in the water are 1.7 million times higher than what is considered a hazardous level in North America. The contamination is a result of household waste and sewage, which is unfiltered before entering the water streams. As the viruses present have low infectious doses, the concern for individual safety is on the rise.

    An expert in risk assessment for waterborne viruses analyzed the results from the AP testing and estimated that athletes from around the world who are not commonly exposed to these viruses have a 99% chance of being infected by a virus via the consumption of only 3 tablespoons of water. This can cause severe sickness such as gastroenteritis, vomiting, and diarrhea. Furthermore, both viruses are easily spread from person to person creating the risk for large amounts of illnesses during this world event.

    The major concern is for the athletes and the many tourists who will be gathering to watch the Olympic events. Both of these viruses are very easily attracted and spread. As such, the outcome of unsanitary waters could be catastrophic. Although Brazil committed to cleaning their water when they were selected to host the 2016 summer games, little improvement has been shown so far. Concerns have risen as now the games are less than one year away and little progress has been made. All individuals travelling to the games have been advised to receive heptatis A vaccinations however, little can be done about the prevention of norovirus. Therefore, the key solution to this issue is to clean up the waters by bringing the bacterial and viral levels down to a minimum.


    Associated Press (2015, July 30). Olympic athletes to swim and boat in “raw sewage”. CBC news. Retrieved from http://www.cbsnews.com/news/brazil-summer-olympics-water-contaminated-with-raw-sewage/

    Brooks, B., Barchfield, J. (2015, July 30). AP Investigation: Olympic teams to swim, boat in Rio’s filth. Retrieved from http://bigstory.ap.org/article/d92f6af5121f49d982601a657d745e95/ap-investigation-rios-olympic-water-rife-sewage-virus

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2011, March 4). Updated Norovirus Outbreak Management and Disease Prevention Guidelines. Retrieved from http://www.cdc.gov/mmwr/preview/mmwrhtml/rr6003a1.htm

    Hepatitis News (2015, August 21). Hepatitis A Concern fors for 2016 Summer Olympics in Brazil. Retrieved from http://www.hepmag.com/articles/hav_concerns_olympics_2831_27670.shtml

    World Health Organization (2015, July). Hepatits A. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs328/en/


    • catherine wong 6:03 pm on November 4, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      This was an extremely interesting article. I did not know that Brazil had such problems in its waters, especially now when they are going to host the Summer Olympics in 2016. As we learned in class and as you mentioned above, these viruses such as Norovirus and Hepatitis A are highly infectious and could cause major consequences for the Summer Olympics when there are so many athletes and tourists from around the world all packed in those areas where the events are taking place. For Norovirus since it has such as high genetic variability and is very difficult for people to get immunity, wouldn’t people living in Brazil have a higher chance of getting ill with Norovirus compared to other countries with cleaner waters? I am actually quite interested to see if or how Brazil will try to clean up their waters before the Olympics and if they do not, what will happen to the athletes and tourists during that time.

    • ColleenChong 10:15 pm on November 4, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Hi Lauren, I have to agree with Catherine this is a very interesting article. I never knew that Brazil had such concerning sanitation issues, with high levels of norovirus and hepatitis A virus. This not only concerning for athletes but also the great amount of tourist that will be attending the events at the Olympics. The dense population at this event would serve as a large reservoir for virus, as mentioned in class, the incubation period can be up to 28 days. From Brazil the viruses can be affecting countries all over the world after the event due its long incubation period- causing a global outbreak. I think it will be extremely difficult to solve the problem that Brazil is facing, especially due to the fact that the viruses has many routes of transmission and its ability to survive. I am too truly interested in seeing what Brazil come up with to clean the waters.

    • TamaraRitchie 2:29 pm on November 5, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Awesome article Lauren! It is really important to think about all health and safety aspects when it comes to the Olympics. I had read previously that Brazil had a lot to do in order to be prepared for the summer 2016 Olympics, these articles focused mainly on drugs and crime though. I never thought about it through a food safety or health perspective. Having the Olympics in a developing country has it challenges as listed above. I am curious to see how they resolve this issue if they are able to. It seems it is a huge problem that will have to be resolved by fixing the sanitation program of the city as well as the safety of the water currently there. I am very interested to see what happens next summer, and if there are any Norovirus or other virus/bacterial outbreaks. Hopefully this is not the case as people will be travelling all over the world to enjoy the games. As well athletes would have trained for years to be given this opportunity and if they are not able to practice their sport in a safe and fair environment there could be negative backlash from the Olympic community.

    • amreenj 3:39 pm on November 5, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Really great choice of article Lauren! I have previously read about the sanitation issues present in Rio however I wasn’t aware of the shear magnitude of the problem. It is awfully concerning that the viral and bacterial levels present in the water are 1.7 MILLION times higher than what is considered acceptable in North America! I think that if Brazil is unable to get this water sanitation issue under control, they shouldn’t be able to host the Summer Olympics. Considering the low infectious doses of HAV and norovirus poses an enormous risk to not only the athletes but also to those visiting. The potential aftermath of such a large number of people getting infected is absolutely catastrophic! I really hope that Brazil takes control on the situation before the Olympics, although I am unsure as to how they will do this. It would require a major overhaul of their infrastructure which, I am not sure is possible in such a short time period.

    • mustafa akhtar 4:08 pm on November 5, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Brazil as a country is very big on soccer and it would be a national tragedy of the World Cup were to be moved to another country. This must be a huge concern! The whole event is dependent on healthy athletes.

      • JorgeMadrigalPons 4:23 pm on November 5, 2015 Permalink | Reply

        the world cup happened last year… they are talking about the olympics

    • KristinaRichmond 7:00 pm on November 13, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      This is an interesting topic, and I agree that contaminated water is a huge issue regarding the Olympics, but I was wondering what the consequences are for the population currently? How are residents and tourists using the water now? Hopefully with the Olympic pressure the time and money will be put into cleaning up the water and will be beneficial to the people living there in the future.

    • BarbaraCorreiaFaustino 12:57 am on November 22, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      This was a compelling article! As a Brazilian myself, I really hope that they fix this problem in time for the Olympics, not only for the athletes that are going to Rio to compete but also for the population that live there. I believe this should have already been solved for that population, but I hope the Olympic Games are going to be one more pressing reason for local authorities to act on cleaning the water and avoiding norovirus and HAV outbreaks. I really hope that, despite messing up last year’s World Cup in many aspects, Brazil’s and Rio’s governments will be able to solve this health issue.

    • Michelle Ebtia 1:28 am on November 29, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      After reading this blog, I decided to do some more research on the topic, and found a few journal articles that have been investigating this problem. In one interesting paper by Fistarol et al. which has been published this month (November 2015), the authors had made a few suggestions and devised an action plan, which is inspired by what the Canadian government had performed to remediate Sydney Harbour in Nova Scotia starting in 2009. The authors point out that the most important change that needs to me made is the treatment of sewage from domestic residents (specifically slums) and hospitals, while keeping the polluters and stakeholders involved in the entire process, by making the findings and data on improvements available to the public. It is also of relevance to this course that even the fish that is harvested from this body of water is contaminated with pollutants and pathogens.

      Work Cited:
      Fistarol, G. D. O., Coutinho, F. H., Moreira, A. P. B., Venas, T., Canovas, A., de Paula Jr, S. E., … & Thompson, F. (2015). Environmental and sanitary conditions of Guanabara Bay, Rio de Janeiro. Frontiers in Microbiology, 6, 1232.

    • Mandy Tam 9:10 pm on December 1, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Great Article!

      I am surprised that there is no such standard on the relationship with the amount of virus that cause illness with water contact.

      I think a lot of people do not know water is an important food source to be aware of as well. I guess probably because water is Canada is pretty clean, however, outbreak caused by water might increase in the future due to increase pollution to the water source. Therefore, this is something that we should seriously think about.

      Anyhow, I am a person who like to drink water from the tab or directly from the stream when I am camping. Now I think I need to rethink again before I am drinking water from an unknown source.

    • cheryl lau 3:18 pm on December 4, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      I agree with the comments above that it is surprising that the Olympic Committee chose Rio de Janiero as the location for the next summer games even with the current situation of the waters. Norovirus is especially concerning because there aren’t specific preventative measures that one could take knowing that they would be exposed to the virus. Although the effects of Norovirus usually presents with mild symptoms, this could be enough to affect an athlete’s health. It would be a shame for athlete who have been training for most of their lives to not perform their best and waste their efforts.

    • EmilyChow 3:08 am on December 15, 2015 Permalink | Reply

      Nice topic! This makes me wonder what regulations Brazil had in place in regards to water safety and also what changes have been implemented since it seems as though there are mainly preventative measures of making sure people receive vaccinations. Perhaps the contamination is worse in some waters than in others? Maybe the committee can focus on cleaning and regulating certain waters and coastlines in order to use their limited time and money most efficiently.

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