At least 200 people have been stricken by what appears to be Campylobacter in Havelock North, New Zealand, and residents say Hastings District Council knew the town’s water supply was contaminated hours before they told people to stop drinking it.
Cassandra Heke said she was angry she heard about the contaminated water from her friends before the council made the issue public.
“The council knew about it on Friday morning but didn’t tell anyone.”
She had chosen to keep her child home for the day, but had called in for some voluntary work at Havelock North Primary School. “I think it’s dreadful, especially the elderly, it’s hurt the community.”
She commended the school’s ability to communicate with them as parents and update them as the saga worsened.
The outbreak has been linked to an underground bore which tested positive for E. coli.
Hastings District Council was unable to be reached for comment this morning.
Colleen Pascoe had just done the school run for her grandchildren while their mother lay sick at home.
“It’s disgusting the council didn’t tell us.”
She said her daughter, not knowing the sickness was waterborne, had focussed on keeping her fluids up drinking lots of water. Catherine Wedd, who had just dropped her child off at school, said she was angry about the lack of communication.
Hastings District Council issued a full page apology this morning for the contaminated water.
Hawke’s Bay Hospital confirmed two older people were critically ill in the intensive care unit. A death at a Havelock North rest home may also be linked to the illness.
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.
“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.
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.
What water are the residents supposed to use?