There’s an old saying that New Zealand is the only third world country where you can drink the water.
Despite marketing itself as 100% pure and telling visitors it has ‘world class’ drinking water quality, 20% of people in New Zealand have water that is either ungraded or contaminated and unfit to drink. There are estimates that a million people have inadequately treated water in New Zealand: they drink from water supplies that have no protection or ability to fight Giardia or Cryptosporidium.
Now there’s a large scale outbreak of Campylobacter in the town of Havelock North, a town that has had water quality problems in the past but does not routinely chlorinate its water supply. Listen to a report with the latest information following a press conference – 1,000 people are affected with 20 people still in hospital, one person dead and two in intensive care. Financial assistance will be offered to people unable to buy medications but the details have not be divulged.
Four schools now are closed after faecal contamination got into the town’s water supply after heavy rain, leading to a massive outbreak of Camplylobacter – believed to be from cow faeces.
The WHO reports that complications from Campylobacter include bacteraemia (presence of bacteria in the blood), hepatitis, pancreatitis (infections of liver and pancreas, respectively), and miscarriage have all been reported with various degrees of frequency. Post-infection complications may include reactive arthritis (painful inflammation of the joints which can last for several months) and neurological disorders such as Guillain-Barré syndrome, a polio-like form of paralysis that can result in respiratory and severe neurological dysfunction or death in a small number of cases.
What’s particularly bad about the Havelock North outbreak is that
- The water supply is not chlorinated, despite multiple water quality failures in the past.
- News about the contamination was withheld from the public until it was too late for many to take precautions – causing hundreds of people to become sick, some of them seriously.
- The illness may not have peaked as symptoms can take up to 10 days to appear.
The Mayor of Hastings has apologised for taking seven-and-a-half hours to tell the public there could be a problem with the water in the city’s satellite town of Havelock North. hundreds have fallen sick since Wednesday last week, with bacteria campylobacter the prime suspect. The town’s water tested fine on Tuesday, but a test taken on Thursday showed the possibility of contamination.
“My staff contacted the DHB and lunchtime they met, and they said there is clearly something going on here.” A decision to chlorinate the water supply was made at 3pm, but no public notice to boil water before using it was issued until 5:30pm. “I think we could have told the public earlier than we did,” said Mr Yule.
“This is highly likely to be campylobacter – that is what people are testing for – and if it is, chlorination removes it from the water supply very, very quickly… more here
a Havelock North residents said Hastings District Council knew the town’s water supply was contaminated hours before they told people to stop drinking it. Cassandra Heke told the press 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.” source
Resident kept fluids up by drinking contaminated water
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. Her husband had gone fishing and filled bottles of water to take out with him, had he known about the contaminated water he would have taken store bought instead.
“I particularly just can’t believe how bad the communication has been.” source
Water in Havelock North is not routinely chlorinated and only happens for a brief time after bacteria are found to be present. Our earliest record for Campylobacter outbreaks in the town dates back to a cluster of 12 cases in April linked to back-siphoning caused by contamination from a roadside drain. The most previous outbreak was in October 2015, yet the water is still not chlorinated
Oct 2015: The Havelock North water supply is being temporarily treated with chlorine, after traces of contamination were found during routine testing yesterday.
Council wanted to alert Havelock North residents as soon as possible, as it is aware the some people have a low tolerance to the taste of chlorine. The chlorinated water is perfectly safe to drink, but for those who want to get rid of the taste the best advice is to boil the tap water, cool it, and then store it in the fridge in the interim…source
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