A timely reminder to practice good hand hygiene during spring lambing and calving season | Te Whatu Ora - Te Tai Tokerau

A timely reminder to practice good hand hygiene during spring lambing and calving season

This is a timely reminder of the importance of good hand hygiene following an increase in the number of cases of gastrointestinal infections, in particular cryptosporidium, E. coli O157 (VTEC), campylobacter, and other diseases in the region. 

Cryptosporidium is a parasite found in the gut of humans and animals. Symptoms include diarrhoea, nausea and stomach pain, and sometimes vomiting and fever. 

Symptoms will usually appear within seven days of exposure but can occur anywhere from one to 12 days. People become infected by ingesting the parasite from contact with animals’ faecal matter, by drinking contaminated water or touching their mouths with contaminated hands. 

Complications of cryptosporidium disease are rare, but it is unpleasant, and the parasite can be easily spread. 

VTEC (verocytotoxin–producing E.coli)  can make people very sick, with symptoms that vary for each person but often include severe stomach cramps, diarrhoea (often bloody), and vomiting. 

If there is fever, it usually is not very high (less than 38.5˚C). Most people get better within 5–7 days. Some infections are very mild, but others can be accompanied by complications that can be severe or even life-threatening. 

Campylobacteriosis is another enteric infection caused by a bacteria called campylobacter, which produces an illness of variable severity with symptoms of abdominal pain, fever and diarrhoea, sometimes including bloody stools. 

Infection occurs most often by ingesting contaminated food, typically undercooked poultry or unpasteurised milk. Cross-contamination from raw meat to other foodstuffs may occur via hands, utensils, chopping boards or incorrect storage. 

In New Zealand, consumption of faecally contaminated water and direct contact with farm or domestic animals are common routes of transmission. 

“We usually see more cases this time of year as lambing and calving can increase people’s exposure to this protozoa and other bacteria, which can cause gastroenteritis-type illnesses,” said Dr. Ankush Mittal, Medical Officer of Health. 

“The best way to avoid illness is good hand-hygiene practices, involving washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds and drying them thoroughly with a clean towel. This is especially important after working with animals, and before eating. 

“Anyone working with livestock should change out of their work clothes before going about routine family or non-farm related activities.” 

Those infected with cryptosporidium, VTEC, or campylobacter should stay away from work, school and preschool until symptom-free for 48 hours to reduce the risk of spreading the infection and should avoid using public swimming pools for two weeks after the symptoms have gone. 

Symptomatic treatment with fluids and any medications prescribed by a GP or health professional is the recommended management. While most people infected with these diseases recover without intervention, recovery can take weeks. Patients are advised to seek further medical advice if not recovering. 

“We need to focus on preventing the spread of these organisms and we encourage everyone to be vigilant about hand-washing as the best way to help prevent the spread of the disease,” Dr Mittal said. 

To reduce the risk of infection with these organisms: 

  • You should assume that all cattle, sheep and goats are infected, even if the animals look clean and healthy.
  • You can pick up VTEC and other organisms by touching animals, fences and other surfaces and accidentally transferring the bacteria to your mouth.
  • Children, especially those under 5, are particularly vulnerable to gastrointestinal infections and are more likely to suffer very serious illness as a result.
  • Washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water will reduce the chance of infection, in particular after using the bathroom or changing nappies and before preparing or eating food.
  • Remember to wash your hands after touching an animal, before eating or drinking, and after removing clothing and shoes worn on the farm.
  • Children should be closely supervised to ensure that they wash their hands properly after contact with animals.
  • Cook meats thoroughly. Minced meat and meat that has been needle-tenderized should be cooked to a temperature of at least 70˚C. It’s best to use a thermometer, as colour is not a very reliable indicator of “doneness.”
  • Avoid raw milk, unpasteurized dairy products, and unpasteurized juices (like fresh apple juice).
  • Prevent cross-contamination in food preparation areas by thoroughly washing hands, counters, cutting boards, and utensils after they touch raw meat.
  • Avoid swallowing water when swimming or playing in lakes, ponds, streams, swimming pools, and backyard “kiddie” pools.

For further information on the above illnesses contact the on-call Health Protection Officer at Ngā Tai Ora on (09) 4304100



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