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Tracking Patterns of Enteric Illnesses in Populations and Communities

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      BackgroundEnteric illness arising from contaminated water and food is a major health concern worldwide, and tracking the incidences and severity of outbreaks is still a challenging task. Most developed and developing countries have administrative databases for medical visits and services maintained by the government and/or health insurance authorities. Although these databases could be extremely valuable resources to track patterns of environmental and other health issues, test hypotheses, and develop epidemiologic models and predictions, very little research has been done to develop methods to ensure the robustness of such databases and to demonstrate their utility as a research tool.ObjectivesWe used the Medical Services Plan (MSP) database of British Columbia, Canada, to develop innovative ways to use medical billing and fee-for-services data to track long-term patterns of enteric illness at the level of populations and communities.ResultsTo illustrate the power and robustness of the method, we provided several examples covering 8 years of data from each of four communities covering a large range of population size. Not only could this method generalize to other diseases for which specific fee item markers can be found, but also it gives results consistent with a known outbreak and yields data patterns, which could not be revealed by the currently used methods. Because diagnostic code and fee item data for medical services are collected by most medical insurance agencies, our method can have global applications for tracking enteric and other illnesses at the level of populations and communities.

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      A massive outbreak in Milwaukee of cryptosporidium infection transmitted through the public water supply.

      Early in the spring of 1993 there was a widespread outbreak of acute watery diarrhea among the residents of Milwaukee. We investigated the two Milwaukee water-treatment plants, gathered data from clinical laboratories on the results of tests for enteric pathogens, and examined ice made during the time of the outbreak for cryptosporidium oocysts. We surveyed residents with confirmed cryptosporidium infection and a sample of those with acute watery diarrhea consistent with cryptosporidium infection. To estimate the magnitude of the outbreak, we also conducted a survey using randomly selected telephone numbers in Milwaukee and four surrounding counties. There were marked increases in the turbidity of treated water at the city's southern water-treatment plant from March 23 until April 9, when the plant was shut down. Cryptosporidium oocysts were identified in water from ice made in southern Milwaukee during these weeks. The rates of isolation of other enteric pathogens remained stable, but there was more than a 100-fold increase in the rate of isolation of cryptosporidium. The median duration of illness was 9 days (range, 1 to 55). The median maximal number of stools per day was 12 (range, 1 to 90). Among 285 people surveyed who had laboratory-confirmed cryptosporidiosis, the clinical manifestations included watery diarrhea (in 93 percent), abdominal cramps (in 84 percent), fever (in 57 percent), and vomiting (in 48 percent). We estimate that 403,000 people had watery diarrhea attributable to this outbreak. This massive outbreak of watery diarrhea was caused by cryptosporidium oocysts that passed through the filtration system of one of the city's water-treatment plants. Water-quality standards and the testing of patients for cryptosporidium were not adequate to detect this outbreak.
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        Performance of the ACG case-mix system in two Canadian provinces.

        While the adjusted clinical group (ACG) system has been extensively validated in the United States, its use in other developed nations has been limited. This article examines the performance of the system in 2 Canadian provinces and assesses the extent to which ACGs can account for same-year and next-year health care expenditures. The study population included all residents of Manitoba and British Columbia who were continuously enrolled in the provincial health plans from April 1, 1995, to March 31, 1997. ACGs were assigned through diagnoses from fee-for-service physician claims and hospital separation records. "Physician" costs were calculated from the fee-for-service tariffs, and for Manitobans, "total" costs were also computed by combining physician and hospital costs. Linear regression was used to examine the ability of the ACG system to explain variation in individual costs (truncated at the 99th percentile). The British Columbia and Manitoba data were generally acceptable, with fewer than 2% rejected diagnoses. Higher costs were associated with both the accumulation of morbidities and their relative severity. For physician costs, the ACG system explained approximately 50% and approximately 25% of the variation in same-year and next-year truncated costs, respectively. For total costs, the system explained approximately 40% and approximately 14% of these respective costs. The application of ACGs in Canada is feasible using existing data. The ability of the ACG system to explain variation in costs is similar to that found in US health systems. While application of ACGs in Canada shows promise, further research is required to examine how closely they reflect population morbidity burdens and health care needs.
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          Characterization of Waterborne Outbreak–associated Campylobacter jejuni, Walkerton, Ontario

          The Walkerton, Canada, waterborne outbreak of 2000 resulted from entry of Escherichia coli O157:H7 and Campylobacter spp. from neighboring farms into the town water supply. Isolates of Campylobacter jejuni and Campylobacter coli obtained from outbreak investigations were characterized by phenotypic and genotypic methods, including heat-stable and heat-labile serotyping, phage typing, biotyping, fla–restriction fragment length polymorphism (RFLP) typing, and pulsed-field gel electrophoresis. Two main outbreak strains were identified on the basis of heat-stable serotyping and fla-RFLP typing. These strains produced a limited number of types when tested by other methods. Isolates with types indistinguishable from, or similar to, the outbreak types were found only on one farm near the town of Walkerton, whereas cattle from other farms carried a variety of Campylobacter strains with different type characteristics. Results of these analyses confirmed results from epidemiologic studies and the utility of using several different typing and subtyping methods for completely characterizing bacterial populations.

            Author and article information

            Water and Watershed Research Program, Department of Biology, University of Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada
            Author notes
            Address correspondence to A. Mazumder, Water and Watershed Research Program, University of Victoria, 116 Petch Building, 3800 Finnerty Rd., Victoria V8P 5C2, BC Canada. Telphone: (250) 472-4789. Fax: (250) 472-4766. E-mail: mazumder@

            The authors declare they have no competing financial interests.

            Environ Health Perspect
            Environmental Health Perspectives
            National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences
            January 2007
            14 September 2006
            : 115
            : 1
            : 58-64
            This is an Open Access article: verbatim copying and redistribution of this article are permitted in all media for any purpose, provided this notice is preserved along with the article's original DOI


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