Gastro outbreak 'peaks' in Havelock North as Ministry of Health called into inquiry Tuesday, 16 August 2016

Source: Stuff, 16 August 2016

The hunt for the source of Havelock North's toxic water outbreak is continuing, as Prime Minister John Key refused to rule out the possibility of the people responsible losing their jobs.

Key said on Tuesday the Ministry of Health would be involved into an inquiry in the outbreak, which has struck down an estimated 2000 residents.

The Hawke's Bay District Health Board said on Tuesday night there were 191 confirmed or probable cases of campylobacter now reported.

Two seriously ill patients admitted to intensive care were recovering, with one now well enough to be moved to a general ward. 

DHB chief executive Kevin Snee said the outbreak appeared to have peaked in the past few days, and "we would hope it would start to abate over the next day or two".

Hastings District Council water services manager Brett Chapman said all tests on the town's water supply since Saturday had come back clear. 

However, the source of the water, an aquifer 20 metres beneath the surface, remained contaminated. 

It should become clear in the next few days whether the bug originated in faeces from  birds, cattle or sheep.

A mushroom farm that uses large amounts of chicken manure, based near the Havelock North water bores, has denied responsibility, and has invited authorities on to the property to investigate.

Te Mata Mushroom Company owner Michael Whittaker said the farm's effluent holding ponds had not been breached, and he did not believe it was possible that manure had leached into the water supply.

Chapman said chlorination would remain in place for the "foreseeable future", and UV treatment would also commence as the contamination meant it was now a legal requirement.

Medical officer of health Nick Jones said the number of people affected appeared to have plateaued, but there was potential for the bug to spread outside Havelock North.

He warned that anyone affected by the virus should not return to work until 48 hours after they had been cleared.

The boil-water notice remained in place as an added level of safety.

Test results from a person who died of a gastro-type illness last week had not come back yet, so it remained unknown whether the death was related to the bug.

Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule said he did not believe the council had been negligent, but the ongoing investigation would resolve that.

Whether compensation would be made available to those affected "was really an issue for next week".

TOO EARLY TO POINT FINGERS

Key met the director-general of Health on Tuesday morning, to receive assurances that the Hawke's Bay DHB was adequately resourced.

"They were able to put me in a position of making sure that all of the appropriate Government support is being given to the people of Havelock North," he said.

"There's been a range of different offers being made around clinical support, to ensure there's enough doctors and the likes."

It was too early to "point fingers". There would be an inquiry, "and as I've said to the Ministry of Health, they've got to be part of that inquiry", Key said. 

Asked if he thought heads should roll over the incident, he said: "I just don't know, I wouldn't want to speculate on that."

The MP for Napier, Labour's Stuart Nash, said the incident was a "crisis" the Government had failed to respond to. 

"What Government response? That's the problem. This is a disaster, it really is.

"We're talking about 1000 people that are ill, we're talking about kids that can't go to school, we're talking about one person that's died, we're talking about possibly the largest public health disaster in a generation."

The MP for Tukituki, National's Craig Foss, said residents had voiced anger about the council to him. 

"People have raised all sorts of concerns about the issue with me. It's specifically the Hastings District Council responsible for water, but people have also come to me with their frustrations about how we ended up where we are."