Rural communities warned to be on alert for illness caused by toxin producing bacteria

31 July 2018

Taranaki’s rural communities are being warned to be on alert for illness caused by bacteria carried in the intestines of cattle and other animals which can cause severe gastroenteritis in young children.

Taranaki DHB’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr Jonathan Jarman says “Taranaki has high rates of Shiga toxin producing E.coli (STEC), also known as Verotoxin producing E.coli (VTEC). Young children on farms with cattle are at high risk of catching this disease, with nearly half of cases ending up in hospital.”

August through to October is the peak season for STEC/VTEC, with the main symptoms being watery diarrhoea, blood in the diarrhoea, severe stomach pains and vomiting.

Other risk factors include drinking unpasteurised milk or untreated water, eating undercooked or contaminated food, swimming in water where you can’t see your feet and being in contact with people who have the infection.

Dr Jarman says “Young children with STEC illness are more likely to get a severe complication called Haemolytic Uraemic Syndrome (HUS) which could damage their kidneys. On average we get a child with this complication once a year in Taranaki.

We’ve already had one case in April where a very sick child ended up needing further treatment in Auckland.”

Dr Jarman says that the main source for these toxin producing bacteria was animal waste, but can also be found in places contaminated with animal waste such as muddy puddles near farm animals or animals drinking troughs, farm clothing and footwear, and in dogs and other farm animals going inside a house.

“Children under five living on or visiting farms with cattle and calves are most at risk from STEC illness. Anyone showing signs of the STEC infection should seek advice from their doctor or by calling Healthline on 0800 611 116 before taking any medication for this illness as some may even make it worse,” he says.

One of the best ways to prevent infection is regular hand washing before eating, after helping out on a farm and after touching animals.  Other ways to prevent infection include cooking meat thoroughly to kill any STEC bacteria and boiling untreated water and raw milk before drinking it.

STEC resources are available from Taranaki DHB’s Public Health Unit or online at www.tdhb.org.nz

Key points:

  • August through to October is the peak season for STEC/VTEC
  • Symptoms include: watery diarrhoea, blood in the diarrhoea, severe stomach pains and vomiting
  • Children under five living on or visiting farms with cattle and calves are most at risk from STEC illness
  • The best prevention for the infection is regular hand washing
  • See your doctor or call Healthline on 0800 611 116 if you show any signs of STEC

ENDS

For more information please call

Beth Findlay-Heath
Communications Advisor
021 665 017

 

Last updated: Tuesday, July 31, 2018

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