There’s good reason to vaccinate food handlers

Source: The Standard
Published on 12/09/2011
By Mwendwa Kiogora

Are we really safe or free from infection when we eat at food kiosks, restaurants, open air food selling outlets and even in big hotels?

We may not be all that safe from food-borne and water-borne diseases because a cross sectional survey conducted by medical experts along the beaches of Kenya’s major lakes, especially along Lake Victoria, found a significant percentage of the population to be positive of typhoid fever and cholera.

As typhoid fever remains one of the major killer diseases in Kenya, food handlers are among the highest risk groups.

They also remain the major transmitters of the disease to others, especially their friends, associates, the people they serve and members of their families.

Food handlers who come into contact with the food they serve are exposed to some of the contaminated food products or containers.

This places the food at risk of being contaminated by hand contact or through ingestion.

Once the food handlers are contaminated or infected by food-borne disease pathogens, they can easily transmit disease to their co-workers and customers at the hotels in which they work.

Medical experts say that pathogens causing diseases like typhoid are highly contagious and that food handlers can be responsible for starting a major outbreak of typhoid fever.

Any time foodstuff is handled, it is at the risk of being contaminated by bacteria and cause typhoid. Many cases of typhoid fever are as a result of lack of public health and environmental health management.

Research shows that majority of waiters and waitresses who handle foods even in big hotels stay in semi-slum areas, which do not have proper sanitation, suffer water shortage, poor hygiene, broken sewers and as a result, have been responsible for disease outbreaks and spread.

Kenya occasionally experiences sporadic and persistent outbreaks of typhoid fever, especially during dry and rainy seasons.

Lack of water results in the outbreak because of lack of cleanliness while floods make the environment dirty and usually results in typhoid and other water-borne disease outbreaks, which have resulted in unnecessary mortality and morbidity.

This calls for good hygiene practices, food safety, clean and safe drinking water and proper sanitation.

Experts say that to minimise typhoid transmission through food handlers at eating places, food handlers must be vaccinated against the disease.

Vaccinations are also required for the workers to get statutory medical certificates.

This is a mandatory requirement — meaning anybody who handles foods at any restaurant without certificate showing that he or she has been immunised against typhoid can be arrested and prosecuted.

A vaccine, Typhim Vi offers protection against typhoid for three years and is usually used by the food handlers.

Mass immunisation of food handlers and administering typhoid vaccine on a three-year regime on them is affordable, effective and time saving.

Clinical trials and tests show the vaccines to be effective, safe and efficacious with minimal side effects if any.

World Health Organisation guidelines on prevention and treatment of typhoid recommend vaccination as one of the measures for high risk groups.

The better option

And to save lives, all public health officers in all counties, must ensure all people serving foods in any set up are vaccinated against typhoid.

Health inspectors must visit all sites selling food to make sure everybody adheres to the vaccine on a three-year regime as required by the statutes.

This will help to reduce typhoid infection rates and deaths. It is believed typhoid infection rates in Kenya currently stand at 10 per cent of the population.

The disease occasionally kills its victims if proper treatment is not given. It is for this reason that prevention becomes the better option.

The typhoid situation is worse in Nyanza Province and something must be done urgently to arrest the situation.

So it is a challenge to health professionals and policy makers in the province.

Typhoid Awareness and Preventive Campaigns, which were sponsored by the multinational drug industry in 1999-2001, was discontinued when politicians locked horns with senior government officers.

This led to the withdrawal of the sponsorship.

According to survey carried out by African Medical News — now ScienceAfrica — awareness and preventive campaign had reduced cases of typhoid by about 60 per cent, especially among school children.

By the time the sponsorship was withdrawn, schools and other institutions had started demanding for typhoid vaccines.

Now that there is Constituency Development Funds, where policy makers are challenged to collaborate with health professionals to use part of the money to purchase typhoid vaccines for schools and or other risk groups.

This should not only be done in Nyanza but also in other regions or countries.

Writer is senior reporter with KTN.

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