The Journey Continues
After three years as an epidemiologist at a county health department, it’s time to move on to bigger and better things…
I remember when my friend Shawn called me to tell me about the job being posted at the health department where he works. Shawn and I met while working at the Maryland Department of Health in 2008. He was an outbreak epidemiologist. I was the epidemiologist responsible for influenza surveillance for the state. We worked together now and then on outbreaks, especially if they were outbreaks of respiratory disease.
One day, Shawn and I traveled to Baltimore County to investigate an outbreak associated with a pizza shop. Several families who had come down with the same strain of Shigella had reported eating take-out from that shop. We met a county sanitarian and dropped in on the pizza shop unannounced. The owner worked the cash register and seemed surprised at our visit.
After we explained to the owner what was going on, we set out to do an inspection of the place. While the sanitarian checked everything to do with hygiene and food preparation, Shawn and I interviewed the workers, asking them about any gastrointestinal problems in the previous weeks. All of them denied having any symptoms. At the end of our visit, the sanitarian reported finding only minor infractions, nothing that would compromise the safety and quality of the food being served.
As we were getting to leave, we asked the employees to provide us with a stool specimen to test for Shigella. We handed out kits with instructions on how to collect a specimen and where to drop it off at the local health department to be tested at the state laboratory. The owner asked for a kit because he wanted to give his employees an example of being responsible to the community and collaborating with the health department.
When I offered him the instructions for dropping off the samples, the owner asked if he could just give us a sample right then and there. We all looked at each other awkwardly and said that he could. He walked into the restroom and came out with a very watery sample in the specimen cup. “Have you been feeling ill in the last few days?” I asked.
“Not really… Just loose stools.”