Something you ate?
Episode 2: Tracking the source
Disease Detectives at Work
Epidemiologists are “disease detectives.” They work to find out the “who, what, where, when and why” of diseases, including foodborne diseases, and then use that research to control health problems.
The Public Health Agency of Canada works with provinces and territories to watch for a rise in cases of foodborne illness above regular levels. If a larger number of people than expected appear to have the same illness in a given period and area, it’s called a cluster. When an investigation shows that ill persons in a cluster have something in common to explain why they all got the same illness, the group of illnesses is called an outbreak.
The Public Health Agency of Canada has epidemiologists on staff who investigate outbreaks of foodborne illness when they occur in more than one province, territory or country. We also provide epidemiological support to provinces and territories upon request.
The Public Health Agency of Canada plays a leadership role in coordinating the response to national food-borne illness outbreaks, which are outbreaks that occur in more than one province, territory, or country (including Canada). The investigation of, and response to, national outbreaks in Canada may involve several organizations at multiple levels of government with complementary responsibilities. The Foodborne Illness Outbreak Response Protocol guides the coordination of roles and responsibilities during such an outbreak.
The chart, Investigating a Foodborne Illness Outbreak, below, illustrates the steps that epidemiologists follow as they work to control an outbreak and find out its cause.