Tax Dollars at Work

What public health systems do for our communities

Two weeks ago, my adult son’s temperature shot up to 102. And it stayed between 101 and 104 for a week. He is immune suppressed, thanks to a biologic he takes for Crohn’s disease (so don’t believe all the pretty ads for Humira which are saturating TV now…. But that is another story….) He had diarrhea, no appetite, no strength. He was hospitalized and tested. The result came back: salmonella. His doctors put him on a powerful antibiotic immediately, and after 4 days, he began to feel better and his temperature dropped to normal.

A happy end to that story. But where did he pick up salmonella? The Seattle King County Public Health Department tracked this down. That is their job. Hospitals are required to report infectious diseases and food-borne illnesses to Public Health. Then Public Health goes to work. In this case, public health interviewed my son over the phone about places he had eaten over the past week. Through this they identified the “hot spot” and connected it with other cases of salmonella that had been called in. And they shut the place down, until the restaurant cleaned up and eliminated the source of illness.

That’s our government at work, using its regulatory, police, and public health powers for the benefit of all of us. Public health inspectors corral bad practices and wipe out vectors of infection with their police authority to inspect and close down restaurants. This year in King County they have had 13 investigations, for suspected cases of norovirus, shingles, e coli, salmonella, and other life-threatening diseases.

Public Health inspects all restaurants in King County. They close the bad ones, for actions such as foodborne illness outbreaks, failures to wash hands, improper food temperature control, risk of cross contaminations, inadequate fresh produce washing. And they rate restaurants for food safety. So when you see a “Needs to Improve” or “Okay” sticker, you know it is best to stay away. Look for the “Good” and “Excellent” stickers with the happy faces! Those are where you should eat. We know that, thanks to our government, funded by our taxes.

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