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Disease detective goes to work for public health

Lisa Boucher is a disease detective.

Lisa Boucher is a disease detective. The communicable disease nurse from Halifax never knows what illness she’ll be tracking down next in her work with the public health department. And that is what fascinates her about her job.

“It’s like CSI,” she says. “You get little pieces of information, and it’s almost like putting a puzzle together to try to figure out.”

Communicable disease nurses receive reports from doctors who come across patients with diseases that, by law, must be reported to public health. These diseases are always infectious and can spread from person-to-person, and Boucher’s work is to catch and contain the disease. That can be tricky because the doctor’s report will only deal with one patient, and Boucher has to take the extra step of finding anyone else who might be infected.

“Often you start off with an individual case, and it ends up really snowballing,” she says. She gives the example of a salmonella case, where she would have to reconstruct the patient’s history as far back as three weeks.

“What did they eat? Where did they eat? Who did they eat with? Did they go to any community events, potlucks, showers?” she asks. Sometimes in tracing the patient’s contacts, Boucher comes across an outbreak.

“All of a sudden we realize, ‘Hey, we don’t have one person – we have six people,’” she says. Then, it becomes her job to find every one of those people and make sure they have the proper vaccines or any other care.

“Time is very important because you really want to get in touch with people – an outbreak would be a priority,” she says. “I can speak for all my colleagues when I say, when the outbreak season is over for flu, we’re happy!”

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