New Programme Analyses Record Gastro Outbreak Wednesday, 20 September 2017

Source: Health Research Council, 20 September 2017

A new programme will carry out an in-depth analysis of the unprecedented water supply outbreak in Havelock North last August where more than 5000 people were infected with the bacteria Campylobacter.

Health Research Council of New Zealand (HRC) Chief Executive Professor Kath McPherson announced today that it was investing $437,949 for the research programme - a special funding allocation awarded due to the significance of New Zealand's largest water supply contamination event. This research would provide the opportunity for health officials, local authorities and communities at large to be better prepared.

"Thankfully public health crises like this are rare, but when we do have one it's important that we take the opportunity to learn as much as we can from it so that it doesn't happen again, or at the very least that we can respond much quicker to greatly lessen the impact on our people's health," said Professor McPherson.

Professor McPherson said this programme of research will bring together experts from across the health and academic sectors to support the region.

Hawke's Bay District Health Board Medical Officer of Health, Dr Nicholas Jones, would lead the programme along with Professor Michael Baker from the University of Otago's Department of Public Health in Wellington. Lead investigators include Dr Brent Gilpin, Dr Jillian Sherwood, Dr Claire Newbern and Dr Mehnaz Adnan from ESR (Institute of Environmental Science and Research); Dr Tiffany Walker, Dr Colin Hutchinson and Dr Tim Frendin from Hawke's Bay District Health Board; and Dr Jonathan Marshall from Massey University. Dr Anita Jagroop-Dearing from Eastern Institute of Technology (EIT) will manage the research.

The programme is made up of six separate studies, each covering different aspects of the Campylobacter  outbreak. These include a detailed assessment of the outbreak and the public health sector's response to it; an investigation into the longer-term health impacts of the outbreak; and an exploration of non-traditional early warning detection tools that could have potentially helped public health professionals identify the outbreak sooner.

Dr Jones said that despite Hawke's Bay District Health Board and local councils having already gathered extensive data on human illness, exposure and risk factors, and drinking water and environmental sources of Campylobacter, there was a unique opportunity for further analysis to gain maximum benefit of the data collected.

"This outbreak is the largest recognised Campylobacter  outbreak to date in New Zealand," said Dr Jones.

"Thanks to the HRC's funding, we'll be able to delve further into the detail to gain insights into the health impacts of a gastroenteritis outbreak of this scale, as well as evaluate the effectiveness of public health interventions and messaging."

"All New Zealand communities will benefit from the programme's findings. The results will also be of international interest as documented water supply outbreaks of this size are unusual," he said.