Opinion: Time for a stronger public health response to the sewage crisis

Opinion: Time for a stronger public health response to the sewage crisis

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A recent in-depth report by Tammy Murga and Paul Sisson in The San Diego Union-Tribune detailed concerns that the constant flow of raw sewage from Tijuana reaching the South Bay coast could have much more negative impact on the health of residents than previously understood. It was noted that Kimberly and Matthew Dickson, the married doctors who own and operate South Bay Urgent Care near Imperial Beach, believe there is a connection between the rains or the malfunctioning of the wastewater treatment equipment. – which increases the number of bacteria involved in sewage water – and the number of people they treat for gastrointestinal symptoms in the following days. “The scary thing is that these people haven’t eaten something unusual, haven’t traveled to other countries, or swam in the ocean,” says Matthew Dickson.

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The Dicksons want county public health officials to begin an immediate testing campaign to try to determine if the illnesses are caused by E. coli bacteria and other bacterial infections linked to the spills. pollution, which has been a problem for decades and has worsened in recent years. They cited the urgent need to determine the short- and long-term health effects of chronic exposure to raw sewage. The doctors got strong support from Imperial Beach Mayor Paloma Aguirre, who also thinks state and perhaps federal health officials should get involved. Last month, the California Coastal Commission said it would ask the county to begin an epidemiological testing program after commissioners visited Imperial Beach and were shocked by the smell of feces hanging over it.

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However, county public health officials say the data they’ve seen doesn’t match the Dicksons’ observations, and Scripps Health and Sharp Health agree. A spokeswoman said that while health officials “will continue to monitor and take seriously all concerns brought to us,” the county does not currently see a case for a change in status. .

This needs to be changed. It is important that the county act to avoid adding to the local history of health neglect in predominantly Latino communities – starting with Barrio Logan, which for decades has been one of the dirtiest areas in all of California. And while the parallels are far from exact, it’s also worth raising the county’s slow public health response in 2017 to the worst single-state hepatitis A outbreak in the United States in 19 years — one that killed of 20 people and sickened nearly 600, with cases concentrated in Downtown San Diego. The county did not declare a local public health emergency until after 15 people had died.

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Apparently, what’s happening in the South Bay — so far — hasn’t been so bad. But here’s how county supervisors made sure the case stayed: by ordering the start of a testing regimen ASAP. This decision does not have to wait until the next board meeting on Tuesday.