Call me maybe? | #4

The summer stretches on, and a new project begins: with my supervisor out of the office on vacation, I’ve picked up some of his regular tasks, mainly the one I’m actually qualified to do: calling about foodborne complaints and illnesses. Maybe you didn’t know this, but the State of Michigan has designated certain diseases (e.g. campylobacteriosis, giardiasis, cryptosporidiosis) as reportable infections. This means that when you go to your doctor or the hospital and you have a confirmed diagnosis of anything on the list, the healthcare provider MUST pass along your information to us, the local health department. We send out a letter with more information, and let you know to expect a call with some follow-up questions.

At first I was really nervous to talk to people over the phone: what if I said something wrong? What if I didn’t ask the right questions? What if I gave away too much information? Setting my fears aside, I dove right in and began making calls. It’s been about a week now and I can honestly say that I’m really comfortable; about half the time I leave a voicemail, and when I do talk to someone they are almost always helpful and cooperative. Some of the questions, like the ones about sexual history, can be a little awkward, but I think people know that we only ask to keep others from getting sick.

In fact the question I hear most often is: does the State of Michigan actually monitor these illnesses? If you ever wondered the same thing, let me tell you with complete certainty that yes, the State of Michigan and the CDC really do watch for common exposures with regards to illnesses. It’s how they find Salmonella in Kellogg’s Honey Smack’s Cereal or pre-cut melon. I always enjoy letting people know that these questions aren’t for nothing; they’re really helping to keep the public safe.

Surveillance is such a large part of what public health does: the ability to monitor for infections in the population, and through information about common exposures be able to prevent others from getting sick, is a really powerful epidemiological tool that agencies, from the local, state, and national level, use everyday. It’s been very rewarding to be a part of that. So, if you get a reportable infection: call me maybe?

One thought on “Call me maybe? | #4

  • July 2, 2018 at 1:56 pm

    Hi Nolan – I continue to be impressed by how you are engaging with the big picture of public health through your internship. Your ability to take something that seems mundane on the surface – phone calls – and convey its significance to epidemiology and keeping people safe is something I see becoming so useful in the future, whether you’re practicing medicine, serving as a public health official, or doing something else entirely. I also appreciate that you’ve made that explanation part of your conversations with people on the phone, since surveillance in the name of public health historically has sometimes been used to justify interventions into marginalized communities. Have a great week!


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