Public Health Emergencies

Introduction

Lambton Public Health, under the direction of Lambton’s Medical Officer of Health (MOH), is responsible for providing public health programs and services targeted at promoting and protecting public health.  These programs promote healthy lifestyles, disease and injury prevention and control of public health threats.

Some of the activities carried out by Lambton Public Health are restaurant inspections, water sampling, vaccination programs and long-term care home and child care centre inspections.  Some of these activities may go almost unnoticed – until something unexpected occurs.

During a disaster, threats to public health may arise almost immediately – drinking water may become contaminated or the air unsafe to breathe.  Lambton Public Health is an important resource during such times and the Medical Officer of Health is a member of the County Control Group, which directs the overall County response during an emergency.  During local emergencies, the Medical Officer of Health may be called upon to provide advice to municipalities about public health matters.

Historical Emergencies - 2014 Central Lambton Boil Water Advisory

Drinking Water Safety

Although some Lambton County residents obtain their drinking water from wells, most residents are served by a municipal system drawing water from Lake Huron.  The Lake is an excellent source of clean water, but even treated water has the potential for quality concerns.  It may therefore be necessary for the Medical Officer of Health to advise the public to either boil or stop using piped water until the problem has been resolved.

Depending on the nature of the problem, the Medical Officer of Health may issue one of the following types of advisories:

Boil Water Advisory – notifies and advises the public about precautions to take prior to using water for drinking and other purposes until the safety of the drinking water supply is confirmed or reinstated.

Under a Boil Water Advisory (BWA), you will be asked to use bottled water or, to bring your tap water to a rolling boil for at least one minute to make it safe.  When a BWA is issued:

  • Do not drink untreated tap water
  • Do not gargle, brush your teeth or rinse dentures with untreated tap water
  • Do not wash fruits, vegetables and other food with untreated tap water
  • Do not make ice, juices, or other uncooked food preparations with untreated tap water

Drinking Water Advisory – notifies and advises the public about precautions to take prior to using water for any purpose, until the safety of the drinking water supply is confirmed or reinstated.

Unlike a Boil Water Advisory, water cannot be made safe for drinking by boiling it.  This condition could arise because of a chemical contamination of the water supply and the contamination cannot be eliminated by boiling the water.

Under a Drinking Water Advisory (DWA):

  • Do not drink tap water – use bottled water or an alternate safe water supply
  • Do not gargle, brush your teeth or rinse dentures with tap water
  • Do not wash fruits, vegetables and other food with tap water
  • Do not make ice, juices, or other food preparations
  • Do not forget about pets – do not let them drink tap water either!
  • Residents might be advised not to use tap water for any household purposes, including showering and bathing.

Preparedness

Take steps now to be prepared for a possible interruption or contamination of the drinking water supply.  Create a 72 hour stockpile of drinking water, allocating 4 litres of water per person per day (provide for pets too!).  This amount should provide a sufficient quantity of water for drinking, cooking, washing, brushing teeth, etc.  You can either purchase bottled water (take note of any “best before” dates and replace when necessary) or bottle your own (here’s how).

Notifications

Local media will be informed of a water advisory through the media.  Those residing in the affected area will be notified though My Community Notification Network and possibly via door-to-door notification.

After the cause of the advisory has been addressed and the drinking water has been made safe, only the Medical Officer of Health can lift the Boil Water or Drinking Water Advisory.  Residents will normally be notified when the advisory has been lifted through the same means used to issue the advisory.  As with any emergency, listen to your radio for news and updates.

If your drinking water has an unusual taste, colour or odour and you suspect that it has become contaminated, contact:

Lambton Public Health: 519 383-8331 / 1-800-667-1839

Food Safety

Food safetyFood safety is the top priority of the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA).  The CFIA, along with other government organizations, works to protect Canadians from preventable food safety hazards.  When food products are found to be unsafe, the CFIA will alert the public.  One source of information concerning food safety alerts is the CFIA website.

Another source of public information is the “Food Safety Network”.

During or Following a Food Safety Emergency

If you lose power, don’t open your refrigerator or freezer unless absolutely necessary – discard any thawed food that has been at room temperature for more than two hours.

If you have food stored in an area which has been flooded, dispose of any items that have been exposed to flood waters including:

  • The contents of your freezer or refrigerator including all meats and all fresh fruit and vegetables
  • All boxed foods
  • All bottled drinks and products in jars, including home preserves, since the area under the seal of jars and bottles cannot be properly disinfected
  • Cans with large dents or that reveal seepage.  All undamaged canned goods must be thoroughly washed and disinfected

REMINDER: Anything that stays wet long enough will grow mould, and mould can make people sick. Dry everything quickly to avoid future health problems.

Infectious Disease

Influenza

Public Health Emergencies - Biohazard Warning Infectious disease remains a major cause of illness and death in the community.  Ontario’s Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care cites estimates that as many as 8,000 Canadians die every year due to the flu (influenza) and complications from the flu.  That is why so much effort is put into annual vaccination campaigns.  Flu shots are especially important for those with compromised immune systems.  The Lambton Public Health website contains more information about influenza.

Pandemic

Public Health Emergencies - Spanish FluThere is often considerable interest and speculation concerning the possibility of a new pandemic.  It must be noted that there are currently no viruses circulating that are capable of causing a pandemic – most virus cannot easily be transmitted from one person to another through casual contact to sustain a pandemic.  A pandemic can arise from a new or mutated virus to which people do not have immunity.

Historically, most pandemic viruses have been traced to an avian (bird) or swine (pig) virus that were either contagious or became contagious to humans through genetic mutation (i.e. the 2009 H1N1 Pandemic virus originated in pigs).

Major pandemics of the 20th century include the Spanish Flu (1918), the Asian Flu (1957) and the Hong Kong Flu (1968).  Public health professionals therefore remain vigilant to ensure that systems are in place to control or respond to infectious disease outbreaks.

Rabies

Rabies is a virus that is carried in an animal’s saliva.  Humans and other animals can become infected through a bite or scratch from an animal with rabies, or if the rabies virus comes in contact with an open cut or the moist tissues of the mouth, nose or eyes.  Rabies is fatal if untreated.

Most of Canada’s rabies is carried by wildlife. This makes control difficult and eradication almost impossible. Foxes, skunks, bats and raccoons are the main carriers and pose a continuing threat because they often live close to people. If they infect your farm animals or pets, they may endanger you.

If you’ve been bitten or scratched by an animal, wash the wound with soap and hot water and contact your family doctor.

Report all biting incidents to Lambton Public Health.

For more information about Rabies Control, please contact the Rabies Control Team Leader at 519-383-8331 Ext. 3578 or 1-800-667-1839 or by e-mail.

The Ministry of Health has two toll-free lines for direct and immediate access to information about rabies:

  • general public 1-800-268-1154
  • hearing impaired 1-800-387-5559

General information about rabies is also available by calling the Ontario Rabies Hotline at 1-888-574-6656 or visiting Ontario’s rabies website.