Gastro outbreak: Nearly 200 sick people seek treatment

The death of an elderly woman is being investigated as the possible first victim of the outbreak while two other people remain critically ill in hospital. Photo / Getty Images
The death of an elderly woman is being investigated as the possible first victim of the outbreak while two other people remain critically ill in hospital. Photo / Getty Images

Nearly 200 sick people sought medical treatment yesterday as a severe gastro disease continues to spread across Havelock North and Hastings.

This morning health and council bosses met in a crisis meeting after hundreds fell violently ill from a campylobacter outbreak linked to the local water supply.

The death of an elderly woman at a rest home is being investigated as the possible first victim of the outbreak while two other people remain critically ill in hospital.

There are now 19 patients being treated in hospital. Hundreds who haven't sought medical help are ill in their homes.

Hawke's Bay District Health Board today said 183 people went to their local doctor and 11 people went to hospital for treatment on Sunday.

Health board representatives, general practitioners, St John Ambulance and council officials are meeting today to discuss the outbreak taking a toll on the Hawke's Bay community.

The meeting will assess any new developments from over the weekend. A widespread information campaign has been circulated electronically and on pamphlets across the district advising people to boil water.

Accident and medical centres, pharmacies and St John have reported large numbers of people with the gastro bug.

More than 51 people had turned up at the hospital's emergency department since Friday and 40 people had sought help from the Hastings Health Centre, the Hawke's Bay DHB said.

Hawke's Bay Hospital has two older people in its intensive care unit in a critical condition, both with a gastro illness and both from Havelock North.

Resident David Riddell said this was the worst illness he had ever experienced, topping bouts of food poisoning experienced while serving during the Gulf War.

The Havelock North man said he was suddenly stricken with painful cramps during dinner on Friday which developed into a nightmare 60 hours of non-stop diarrhoea.

"This is just unbelievable. This has beaten glandular fever hands down. I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy."

He said he was concerned it would spread through his young family with 3-year-old daughter Lily starting to come down with it yesterday.

Riddell said the illness intensified on Saturday with flu-like symptoms which developed into the worst headache he had ever experienced.

He spent the weekend in bed as any movement sparked a wave of pain.

The death of an elderly woman is being investigated as the possible first victim of the outbreak while two other people remain critically ill in hospital. Photo / Getty Images
The death of an elderly woman is being investigated as the possible first victim of the outbreak while two other people remain critically ill in hospital. Photo / Getty Images

Today a leading researcher of infectious diseases said it was likely faecal run-off from sheep and cattle was the cause of this latest outbreak.

"Groundwater is much less likely to be contaminated than surface water, but if it is campylobacter, based on previous experiences, it is most likely to have come from cattle and sheep and run-off of effluent or faeces," said Massey University Infectious Diseases Research Centre director professor Nigel French.

He said the outbreak demonstrated even secure groundwater could become contaminated and testing and treatment was advised to ensure the best public health outcomes particularly if there had been a high-risk event such as heavy rainfall.

Two schools are closed today due to the bug.

Havelock North's Iona College said it had 85 students and eight teachers with the bug.

Principal Shannon Warren said the boarding house and the day school would be closed from 7pm tonight.

The boarding school will reopen on Tuesday evening for boarders and the day school will reopen Wednesday morning.

Warren said the school was in a "unique situation" as the school was a residential facility with more than half of the students boarding.

"We understand that some families will be inconvenienced by this decision and we apologise for that but we do not apologise for prioritising the health and wellbeing of our staff and students," the school said.

Woodford House was also closed until 4pm Tuesday, when boarders would be able to return, and Wednesday morning for the other students.

A few students who were unable to go home, including international students, would remain at the school.

In a statement, the school said "the health issues in Havelock North surrounding contaminated water have unfortunately affected a large number of girls and some staff.

"The boards have considered this advice alongside the Ministry of Education guidelines and made the decision to close the school for two days. The wellbeing of our community is paramount."

This evening's final showing of the Lindisfarne College and Woodford House production The Lion King Jr had been postponed as a number involved were sick.

Hundreds of school students in the area were absent on Friday due to the bug.

This is just unbelievable. This has beaten glandular fever hands down. I wouldn't wish this on my worst enemy.

An underground bore tested positive for E.Coli and the Havelock North water supply was chlorinated.

Hastings District Council said yesterday water pipes were being flushed out to bring the chlorine through but residents were advised to boil water.

Hawke's Bay District Health Board medical officer of health Dr Nicholas Jones said gastroenteritis affected older and younger people much more severely and older people needed to seek medical help early on if they weren't getting better or couldn't keep fluids down. The same applied to young children.

He said they encouraged the community to keep an eye out for older people living alone.
"The boil notice will remain until we are confident there is no other bug resistant to chlorination in the water, which is expected to take several days," he said.

Hands needed to be washed thoroughly by using plenty of soap, cleaning under fingernails, rinsing hands well and drying on a clean towel: before and after preparing food, after going to the toilet or changing a baby's nappy, after caring for sick people and after touching animals.

Symptoms of the Havelock North illness include diarrhoea and influenza-like symptoms: headaches, muscle pain, fever and feeling generally unwell.

Symptoms could last up to 10 days but should get better without antibiotics.

Children and older people are most at risk of dehydration, while the diarrhoea lasts, so fluid intake is important.

• For more information visit here. People could also call Healthline on 0800 611 116 for advice from a registered nurse. For information on the water supply contact Hastings District Council call 06 871 5000

- NZ Herald

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