Frequently Asked Questions

Can I get sick from eating oysters?

Oysters live in water that contains naturally-occurring bacteria called Vibrio. These bacteria may be present in oysters that people eat, particularly in the warmer months of the year. Most people who eat oysters that have these bacteria do not develop any health problems at all, but some will have diarrhea that is usually not severe. However, there is one type of bacteria called Vibrio vulnificus which can cause severe illness in persons who have health problems. You should not eat raw oysters if you have chronic liver disease, congestive heart failure, diabetes, peptic ulcers, immune deficiency (such as that caused by AIDS or cancer chemotherapy), kidney failure, cancer, or if you engage in chronic heavy alcohol use, because you could develop a serious, life-threatening blood infection. If you have these health problems and still want to eat oysters or other shellfish, you should eat them fully cooked. For more information contact your physician or our office.

How do I protect myself from getting hepatitis?

There are three common types of viral hepatitis, called types A, B, and C. Hepatitis A is spread through the "fecal-oral" route - frequently between classmates in daycare centers, from children to their parents, and occasionally through contaminated food. Hepatitis B and hepatitis C are spread through sexual contact, needle-sharing through injection drug use, and other contact with blood. Vaccines are available to prevent hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Hepatitis A vaccine is currently recommended for persons at high risk of exposure, such as in day care center attendees and employees or for selected international travelers. Hepatitis B vaccine is now given to all infants in Louisiana and is beneficial to all adults, particularly those who have multiple sexual partners or who may be exposed to blood. For more information on hepatitis, contact your private physician or your local parish health unit.

How do I report diseases to the health department?

Diseases should be reported by mail, fax, or telephone to your local parish health unit or can be sent to:

Infectious Disease Epidemiology Section
Louisiana Office of Public Health
1450 Poydras St., Ste. 1641, New Orleans, La 70112
(504) 568-8313  (telephone)
(504) 568-8290 (fax)


The information needed should include:

  • The patient's name
  • Date of birth
  • Address
  • Age
  • Race
  • Gender
  • Name and telephone number of person making report
  • Disease or condition being reported
  • Results of laboratory tests confirming the diagnosis, if available
  • Date of onset of the illness

This information can be provided in any format, but providers may use green EPI-2430 reporting cards. You can get blank cards if you call our telephone number or your local parish health unit, or get the EPI-2430 reporting card.

 

I know a person who has meningitis. What do I need to do to prevent myself from getting it?

There are two types of meningitis: bacterial meningitis and viral (or "aseptic") meningitis. Viral meningitis, while uncomfortable, is not a dangerous illness and does not require any treatment or preventive measures. Bacterial meningitis is more serious, but is not very contagious. People who live in the same house as persons with bacterial meningitis should take medicine to decrease their risk of disease. If you are a household member of a person with bacterial meningitis, contact your physician about getting these medicines. If you do not live in the same house as the person who has meningitis, you are not at unusual risk and DO NOT need to take preventive medications. For more information or assistance, contact your local parish health unit or our office at 504-568-8313.

I've been bitten by an animal. Do I need to be vaccinated against rabies?

Rabies occurs regularly in Louisiana in bats and skunks, occasionally in other wild animals such as raccoons, coyotes, and foxes, and rarely in cats and dogs. Small rodents (such as squirrels, rats, mice, hamsters, guinea pigs, gerbils, and chipmunks) and lagomorphs (such as rabbits and hares) are almost never found to be infected with rabies and have not been responsible for rabies among humans in the United States. Bites by these animals are usually not considered a risk of rabies unless the animal was sick or behaving in any unusual manner and rabies is widespread in your area. If you have been bitten by any animal, immediately wash the wound with soap and clean water. Severe bites may require additional medical attention. If you have been bitten by a bat, skunk, raccoon, fox, other wild animal, stray dog or cat, or a rodent or lagomorph that is behaving strangely at the time of the bite, contact your physician and your local parish health unit sanitarian or nurse. The need to be vaccinated against rabies for this bite will depend on several factors, including the circumstances of the bite and whether the animal is available for rabies testing. For more information, contact your local parish health unit.

What diseases are reported to the health department?

The state Sanitary Code requires that certain diseases be reported to the Office of Public Health by laboratories, physicians, nurses, other health care providers, and social service providers. The diseases that are reportable are generally those diseases for which prevention programs are in place or which are rare and important to identify. They include sexually transmitted diseases (including HIV infection), vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and mumps, gastrointestinal infections such as salmonellosis or shigellosis, and meningitis. See a complete list of reportable diseases.

What do I do if I recognize an outbreak of disease?

If you notice an unusually large number of persons becoming ill with the same illness (whether or not they seem to be related in other ways), we encourage you to report this possible outbreak to our office. Please call the Infectious Disease Epidemiology Section at (504) 219-4563 or call your Public Health Unit and we will investigate from there. Any occurrence of a rare or exotic illness should also be reported.

What does the Epidemiology Section do?

The Epidemiology Section of the Office of Public Health collects and maintains statistics on infectious diseases in Louisiana, investigates outbreaks of disease, and provides information, consultation to health providers, other agencies, and the general public on prevention of infectious diseases.

What should I do to protect myself from diseases when I travel overseas?

The type of vaccinations and medications you should take to prevent getting an illness when traveling overseas depends on the place you are going, the length of time you plan to spend there, and the sanitary conditions under which you will be living while there. In general, persons going to countries with malaria in Africa, Latin America, and Asia should take medications to prevent malaria starting two weeks before they leave; yellow fever immunizations should be obtained for travel to parts of Africa and South America; persons going to developing countries and living in unsanitary conditions should be vaccinated against hepatitis A. For specific details on your needs, contact your physician or our office at (504)568-8313.

Where can i find the Sanitary Code list of diseases?

Chapter II - The Control of Disease section of the Sanitary Code can be found here.

How to Report an Outbreak?

In addition to the requirement for individual case reports, any unusual or group expression of illness which may be of public health concern should be reported to the local health authorities by the most expeditious means, whether it is included or not in the list of diseases officially reportable in the particular locality and whether it is a well known identifiable disease or an undefined or unknown clinical entity.

If you notice an unusually large number of persons becoming ill with the same illness (whether or not they seem to be related in other ways), we encourage you to report this possible outbreak to our office. Please call the Infectious Disease Epidemiology Section at (504) 568-8313 or call your Public Health Unit and we will investigate from there. Any occurrence of a rare or exotic illness should also be reported.