Outbreak at Watersedge: Public Health Discovery Game

Introduction

During mass disease outbreaks such as the one experienced at Watersedge, it is the role of public health officials to correctly identify, analyze, and propose solutions to the issue. Disease outbreaks are an occurrence of confirmed cases of disease that exceeds normal expected parameters in a specific geographic area or season. The outbreaks begin and continue as a result of infectious agents spreading from human to human via a source of exposure such as an animal vector or environmental source (World Health Organization, n.d.). Disease outbreaks can become significant security threats to public health in addition to disrupting socio-economic functions. Through the use of epidemiological processes and tools, public health officials can obtain information about the origin of any specific outbreak.

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Epidemiological Process

The game has the player follow an epidemiological process of identifying the cause of the outbreak. At first, the public health department receives notification that there have been instances of widespread retroviral illness with subsequent hospitalization. It is evident that this occurrence is abnormal, prompting an investigation. Interviews are conducted with the patients to identify their location prior to getting sick. This information of time, place, and person is known as descriptive epidemiology (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016). The locations are promptly and meticulously placed on the map of the city.

This process is known as mapping, which with modern medical geographic information system technology has become a valuable tool in providing a comprehensive and overarching picture of public health patterns (Musa et al., 2013). The points on the map are analyzed to determine a pattern of population movement over the past day and potentially identify the geographic origin of the outbreak, which was Thompson Lake Park in the scenario.

The next step in the process would be to conduct a retrospective cohort study. This is most appropriate for small outbreaks in a well-defined population (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016). The population has been established as visitors of the park. In the game, the cohort study consisted of going to the park and speaking with witnesses, and documenting the overall environment. Upon returning to the office, hypotheses are presented on potential sources of the outbreak such as water fountains. In reality, a complex risk analysis would be conducted to determine if mathematical calculations support the location.

This is corroborated by further descriptive epidemiology gathered identifying that the source of sick originated in the concession stand and water fountain area. In addition, general information such as weather, public events, and local headlines are gathered to create a more detailed portrayal of what occurred on the day of the outbreak. The hypothesis is re-evaluated if necessary to conform to updated information.

In the game, the intern is sent to the park to collect samples. Upon collecting samples from the water sources, it is evident that the concession stand attendant used the nearby water fountain to make fruit punch that many of the ill patients described drinking. This suggests that the water fountain was the source of the outbreak. An environmental and laboratory study is conducted to investigate this claim and identify the infectious agent present in the water as well as how it arrived in this source.

Results

The game identified the infectious agent as Cryptosporidium, a single-celled, protozoan parasite that can be a carrier of zoonotic diseases. The pathogen can cause cryptosporidiosis, a disease that can be acquired through ingestion or contact with contaminated water. Common symptoms include diarrhea, nausea, stomach cramps, and dehydration, many of the similar symptoms experienced by the town’s population in the game (“Cryptosporidiosis,” 2013).

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The disease was confirmed by laboratory tests from collected samples. A further investigation determined that the outbreak was localized to the fountain and concession stand gathering water from the fountain since it is the only water source in the park that is not routed through the modernized city municipal system. Additionally, the water fountain filter broke, leading to an unfortunate combination of events that led to the outbreak. Heavy rains led to the downflow of groundwater from a farm upstream (thus the animal factor) which carried the infectious agent.

The next step for public health officials in the process would be to implement control and prevention measures. The outbreak must be contained by all available means based on the available epidemiologic information. Control measures are directed at segments in the chain of transmission of the agent, including the mode, portal of entry, or host. If possible, the agent is eliminated at its source, and decontamination procedures are enabled to prevent a further outbreak (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2016).

Public health officials have high-pressure jobs of preparedness, response planning, and recovery for disaster and disease outbreaks. The department of public health in any location has a vital responsibility of keeping the population, as well as clinical staff, informed of relevant information regarding health risks and infectious diseases. As evident, the profession requires highly investigative and research skills, a comprehensive understanding of medical, environmental, and biological concepts, as well as the ability to derive patterns from a complex set of factors (“The Role of Public Health Officials,” 2018).

Conclusion

Public health officials hold an important role in identifying the causes of disease outbreaks. Using the game “Outbreak at Watersedge,” one can follow the epidemiological process used by public health departments in the United States. By engaging the scientific method and investigative tools, it is possible to identify the source of the disease and implement protective measures for the population.

References

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2016). Lesson 6: Investigating an outbreak. Web.

Cryptosporidiosis. (2013). Web.

Musa, G. J., Chiang, P.-H., Sylk, T., Bavley, R., Keating, W., Lakew, B., … Hoven, C. W. (2013). Use of GIS mapping as a public health tool—From cholera to cancer. Health Services Insights, 6, 111–116. Web.

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The role of public health officials in combating infectious diseases. (2018). Web.

World Health Organization. (n.d.). Disease outbreaks. Web.

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