In the past, Torontonians have had to guess whether or not it’s safe to visit grandma or grandpa at the nursing home, never knowing if lax sanitation has left the bingo balls and wheelchair handles coated with potentially infectious biological agents. Now the city has taken it upon itself to post information about outbreaks at health institutions on a dedicated website, which it plans to update on a weekly basis.
The information is both useful and scary. The second-ever outbreak summary, posted to the website last week, identifies ten active outbreaks in hospitals and nursing homes all over the city. The outbreaks are grouped into gastrointestinal and respiratory classes.
Although the idea of ten healthcare facilities in full-on outbreak mode may seem alarming, it’s not actually quite that bad, because the definition of “outbreak” is fairly conservative. For respiratory illness, provincial guidelines say an outbreak can consist of as few as two acutely ill people. It’s similar for gastrointestinal illness. If a nursing home or hospital shows up on the list occasionally, it won’t necessarily mean the place is poorly run, or that visitors need to wear hazmat suits.
Credit for this outbreak information suddenly being made public belongs partly to the Toronto Star, which ran an investigation into a particularly virulent series of outbreaks at a Scarborough nursing home.