DHBs issue warning around spring fevers

8 August 2014

As farmers prepare for spring growth, and the birth of lambs and calves unfortunately it is also the time when increased reports of gastrointestinal illnesses the Public Health Service can often be traced back to contact with animals, and especially calves and lambs.
All animals carry a range of microorganisms (bugs) and some can cause unpleasant illnesses for people. In many instances, the animals carrying these bugs in their gut are well but in some instances, the bugs leading to problems such as abortions, scours and blood poisoning for the animals.
The most common illnesses spread by animals to people are campylobacteriosis, cryptosporidiosis, giardiasis, salmonellosis and Ecoli 0157.  People can be infected after handling animals or through contact with animal droppings, urine and contaminated animal products  The bugs can be bought into the house on unclean hands or clothing and infect people (especially children) who have had no direct contact with animals. The usual symptoms of these illnesses are typically symptoms of gastroenteritis such as:
  • abdominal cramps
  • diarrhoea
  • fever
  • nausea and/or vomiting.
For most people illnesses will last for several days and they will recover. More serious illness can occur especially in young children, people with weakened immune systems, pregnant woman and the elderly, which may require medical treatment.
Illness with the Ecoli 0157 bug can be particularly severe for young children and the number of cases reported appears to be increasing. Dr Jackie Benschop, Senior Lecturer in Molecular Epidemiology and Veterinary Public Health at Massey University says: “It’s striking how it’s increasing.” Between 2003 and 2006 there were around 100 cases of E-coli 0157 (also known as VTEC or STEC) notified each year. But 2012 saw a sharp increase to 147 notified cases and last year the numbers hit 207. The bug can produce toxins that may cause significant problems with the kidneys of children.
Prevention is the best way to avoid serious illness and the most important thing to remember is good hand hygiene. Hand-wringing isn’t going to help . . .  it’s hand washing and drying that’s going to make the difference. Hand washing after contact with animals, their droppings, urine, tissues or other items contaminated with these materials is very important. Hands should also be thoroughly washed before eating, drinking or smoking.
Close supervision of young children is also very important. Children should be discouraged from kissing animals, sucking their fingers and thumbs, and putting things in their mouths, especially when around the farm.
Pet days and farm visits can be educational and fun, especially when they give children the chance to touch animals they may not usually see. If your school or childcare centre is planning one of these events, make sure there are good hand washing and drying facilities available. If children show signs of illness after the pet day or farm visit, it is best to visit your doctor and explain that they have had recent contact with animals.
Staying well on the farm should also involve lowering the risk of illness from drinking or consuming contaminated water or farm products.  Simple steps such as making sure the source of water is protected from run-off that may contain bugs and heat treating raw milk to get rid of bugs, can make all the difference.
Simple hygiene rules will make this time of year fun and healthy for kids and less stressful for adults.
For further information see: www.midcentraldhb.govt.nz/HealthServices/PublicHealth or call  Whanganui's Public Health Centre on 06 348 1775.