Curtis-Steele says problems at Nova Scotia’s small water systems are more worrying – the disinfection system might fail, the source of the contamination isn’t corrected, and most importantly, the facilities are tested and monitored less because it provides water for fewer people compared to municipal water supplies. For example, municipal water supplies are required to send the test results to the Environment Department to review every year, but water test results of a restaurant is only checked every three years.
Curtis-Steele says every water supply is important when it comes to public health, even through problems at registered facilities may not affect a great number of people to cause an epidemic.
Barbie Cook, on-site manager at the Lillian Fraser Memorial Hospital in the Colchester County, says if one or two people got sick and came to the hospital. But if they couldn’t remember where they had the bad water or food, it would be hard for the physician to make the connection between the illness and a specific facility.
Tony Kiritsis, media relations advisor at the Health Department, says physicians do have the responsibility to report certain illnesses to the Department of Health and Wellness.
Verotoxigenic E. coli is one of those reportable diseases. The most recognized type within this group of pathogens is O157:H7, which was found in the water system in Walkerton.
“All reportable diseases and conditions are reported to the local public health office in each district,” says Kiritsis in an email. “If a disease is reported at the local level, a communicable disease nurse contacts the individual who is ill, and conducts an interview to determine where the ill person may have come in contact with the disease causing bacteria.”
He says if the nurse suspects a restaurant as a potential source, the nurse will contact the local office of the Agriculture Department to carry out an inspection.
If an issue is identified, the Medical Officer of Health for the district in which the water supply is located, will be informed. And a boil water advisory is issued to the facility in question.
The Health Department produces an annual report of notifiable diseases that includes how many cases of each reportable disease was recorded within the year.
Eleven cases of Verotoxigenic E. coli have been reported in 2013, which is one in 100,000 people in this province. Six cases are recorded under the Capital District Health Authority, which oversees the Halifax County.