It’s not just about water. Members of the NZ and international water associations are meeting in Hamilton this week to unpick what happened in Havelock North to cause the world’s worst recorded water-borne outbreak of campylobacter infection.
A year ago, the aquifer Havelock North draws on was contaminated with faecal matter from sheep following heavy rain.
A guest speaker at the meeting is Steve Hrudey from the University of Alberta, who will recount the analogous experiences of Walkerton, Ontario, where, in May 2000, several thousand people became ill from contamination of their water supply with harmful strains of E coli, and campylobacter. Seven died.
The outbreak in Havelock North showed New Zealanders just how nasty campylobacter infection can be, especially for the elderly and people with compromised immune systems. The deaths of two, and possibly three, people were linked to this outbreak, and three were hospitalised with the paralysing neurological disorder, GuillainBarre syndrome. Some of the consequences do not appear in black and white statistics. For example, one elderly woman who was managing well living in her own home had to go into a rest home following infection. For her it was life-changing.
The Havelock North incident landed us in the global infectious disease record books. Hopefully the lessons will be taken. There’s a clear need to ensure that all our drinking water supplies are adequately protected, using wellestablished and safe methods such as chlorination.
New Zealand has one of the highest rates of reported campylobacter infections among OECD countries, and much of this
Campylobacter is nasty and poultry is the most common source of infection. Protect yourselves, write