Havelock North is currently experiencing an outbreak of Campylobacter associated with a contaminated water supply but this disease can be a problem here in the Waikato as well. Campylobacter is a bacteria which can cause vomiting and diarrhoea. It is the most commonly notified foodborne disease in New Zealand. People normally become infected after eating undercooked chicken or drinking raw milk. People can also become infected following contact with farm animals, drinking untreated water, or coming in contact with others with the disease. People who have campylobacter infection can pass it on to other people through shared bathrooms, preparing and sharing food, or poor hand hygiene.
In the Waikato DHB, there were 599 notified cases of Campylobacter in 2015. So far in 2016 there have been 287 cases. We expect around 70 cases a month to be notified through spring and summer as people come into contact with farm animals during lambing/calving, and people start to have barbecues and potentially eat undercooked chicken.
After being infected people normally develop symptoms in 2-5 days, but it can take as long as 10 days. People get abdominal pain, fever, vomiting, and diarrhoea, and may have blood in their faeces. Symptoms usually last about a week, although people can continue to shed Campylobacter in their faeces for several weeks. People who are young or old can be particularly vulnerable if they get infected, however most people get better without any medical treatment. Infected people need to rest and drink lots of water, and ensure good hand washing and bathroom cleaning.
To prevent getting Campylobacter infection, people should:
- Wash their hands before cooking or eating, and after handling raw chicken
- Store raw chicken in the fridge away from other foods
- Pre-cook chicken before barbecuing it
- Wash and dry their hands after going to the toilet
- Drink pasteurised milk
- Wash their hands after any contact with farm animals
If people suspect they have Campylobacter infection, they should consult their local doctor for testing. If there is an outbreak of the disease affecting multiple people, Population Health staff will investigate to determine the source of infection and ensure precautions to prevent further spread are being followed.
Public Health Medicine Specialist / Medical Officer of Health