News & Events

Health advice for residents affected by Tai Tapu/Port Hills fires

17 February 2017

A line of flames burns across the Port Hills. Source: fires are currently creating a number of issues for Canterbury residents.

Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Dr Alistair Humphrey says that for most people the resulting smoke may be unpleasant but carries no risk to public health.

“The smoke may irritate the eyes, nose, throat and airways. More serious symptoms can include runny or sore eyes, dry or sore throat, sore nose, cough, tightness of the chest or difficulty breathing. In healthy people, most symptoms disappear soon after exposure to smoke ends and do not cause long-term health problems.”

Smokers, the elderly, children and those with heart disease, asthma or other respiratory or lung disease are at greatest risk of harm from smoke inhalation. Christchurch Hospital had two people present to the Emergency Department for breathing problems exacerbated from smoke during the fires.

Here are some tips if you are affected by smoke from the fires:

  • Avoid exposure where possible by staying indoors, and closing windows and doors.
  • Seek medical help if your symptoms worsen, especially if you have asthma, lung or heart disease, or if you start to experience breathlessness or chest pain.
  • Call your local GP team 24/7 if you have difficulty breathing, have a prolonged cough or tightness in their chest – they can tell you what to do and where to go if you need to be seen urgently.
  • Phone 111 in an emergency.

Get the latest updates on the Tai Tapu/Port Hills fires including road closures (Christchurch City Council).

Smoky smells in homes are no threat to your health

Residents affected by the Port Hills fires are being reassured the smell of smoke in their properties presents no serious threat to health.

Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Dr Alistair Humphrey says while many people returning to their houses will notice a strong smoky smell lingering, it does not present any long term harm to people’s health. “While those returning to their homes may find the smell distressing, it presents no immediate harm to health.”

Look out for one another and take care of each other

Dr Humphrey is also encouraging people remember to look out for their neighbours, especially the elderly, or those with disabilities and make sure they’re ok. “Canterbury has been hit hard with its fair share of disasters, so many people will understandably be feeling overwhelmed and in shock. We all need to remember to look out for one another and take care of each other.”

Dr Humphrey acknowledged Canterbury has been hit hard with its fair share of disasters in the last half decade, so many people will understandably be feeling overwhelmed and in shock. “We all need to remember to look out for one another and take care of each other.

All Right? manager Sue Turner agrees with Dr Humphrey. “We know that going through a disaster takes a toll on all of us and coping isn’t always easy,” she says.

“During scary events like earthquakes or fires, our brains react chemically – releasing adrenaline. This response is our natural alarm system – our body telling us to be alert and ready for action. It’s there to help us, but afterwards we can feel shaky, queasy or on-edge, and it can make it hard for us to concentrate. It can also result in strong emotional responses such as anger or crying.”

Sue says this is normal and can be eased with doing some light physical activity, taking up a small chore or task and by focusing on some calm breathing for 10 seconds. “Returning home after an evacuation can be a difficult and emotional experience. It is normal for people to have conflicting emotions as a result of returning home.

“Experience and research tell us that the impacts of disasters go on for a long time. You need to pace yourself. Go slow and steady, and look after yourself and your relationships.

“Recovering from disaster can be a stressful, overwhelming time. By taking care of yourself and your loved ones, remembering that this will take a long time, celebrating the small wins, and asking for help when you think you need it you’ll give yourself a good chance of a good recovery.”

Sue says recovery takes a long time, and most people will recover well with strong, positive support from friends and family.

Visit the All Right? website for little things we can do to look after ourselves or to get support during tough times.

Sources: Canterbury DHB media releases (16th and 17th February 2017).

Boil water notices still in place for many Kaikoura residents

8 February 2017

Kaikoura residents should remain vigilant in preventing gastro bugs, with the risk from damaged water infrastructure still affecting many in the district.

People in the Kaikoura District are being reminded to:

  • continue to boil their drinking water, unless they’ve been told by the Kaikoura District Council that they no longer need to,
  • wash their hands and
  • keep out of any contaminated waterways.

Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Dr Alistair Humphrey says infrastructure damage from the 14th November earthquake, means boil water notices still apply to five of the eight council water supplies servicing the Kaikoura district.

“The only council water supplies safe to drink are Kaikoura township, neighbouring Ocean Ridge, and Kincaid,” Dr Humphrey says. “Boil water notices affect more than a thousand Kaikoura residents as well as anyone visiting these areas. These supplies are not secure and remain at risk of contamination.”

Dr Humphrey also says anyone outside the safe to drink areas must boil their water, or get their water tested if on a private supply (if they haven’t already). “Private water supplies must be tested quarterly, as well as after heavy rainfall and following any significant earthquakes.”

People living in or visiting the following five Kaikoura District Council areas need to boil their water:

  • Oaro (approximately 400 residents);
  • Fernleigh (approximately 150 residents);
  • Kaikoura Suburban (approximately 50 residents);
  • Peketa (approximately 400 residents) – this supply suffered significant damage and is unsafe to drink unless boiled; and
  • East Coast Rural servicing Clarence (approximately 150 residents).

Other ways to prevent gastro bugs in the Kaikoura region

Everyone should always remain vigilant about hand washing too, Dr Humphrey says. “It’s important to wash your hands thoroughly to prevent gastro infections such as Norovirus, which can spread quickly across a community.”

Dr Humphrey also warns people to not swim , surf or consume seafood and shellfish collected in the area where Lyell Creek discharges into the ocean.

“Advice from the Kaikoura District Council on the state of wastewater infrastructure indicates people should stay away from the Lyell Creek area until further notice.”

The sewer system has been re-established along Hawthorne Road (between the bridge and Mt-Fyffe Road), and on Mt-Fyffe Road (between Hawthorne and Totara Lane). People can use their toilet and do their washing. The remaining residents without operational sewer will be advised as soon as the service is re-established.

Source: Canterbury District Health Board media release (8th February 2017).


Check for health warnings before going near waterways

3 February 2017

Swimming Water QualityRecreational water users are being reminded to avoid contact with some Canterbury and South Canterbury waterways.

Dr Alistair Humphrey, Canterbury Medical Officer of Health, says health warnings remain in place where there’s potentially toxic blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) in a number of areas around the regions.

“Make sure you check the health warnings for toxic algae before going near any waterways. And if in doubt, keep out.” Dr Humphrey says.

Harmful effects of toxic algae on humans and animals

Algal blooms can produce toxins harmful to humans and animals. People should avoid contact with the water where algal blooms are present until further notice. The algae is particularly dangerous for dogs.

“Animals that show signs of illness after coming into contact with toxic algae should be taken to a vet immediately. Symptoms of cyanobacteria poisoning in dogs include panting, lethargy, muscle tremors, twitching and convulsions – which usually occur within 30 minutes of exposure.”

Dr Humphrey says people who come into contact with toxic algae can also experience unpleasant symptoms. “Exposure may cause skin rashes, nausea, stomach cramps, tingling and numbness around the mouth and fingertips. If you experience any of these symptoms visit your doctor immediately and please let your doctor know if you have had contact with the water,” Dr Humphrey says.

People should never drink water from a waterway where a health warning is in place and they should also avoid eating fish and shellfish taken from areas where warnings are in place. “Boiling the water does not remove the toxin. If fish are eaten, remove the gut and liver and wash in clean water.”

Environment Canterbury Chief Scientist Dr Tim Davie says it is not possible to monitor every reach of every stream and river in Canterbury so we concentrate on sites where we know people swim. “We monitor 52 popular freshwater swimming sites in Canterbury and similar number of beaches; the results are shown on the Environment Canterbury and the LAWA websites (Land, Air, Water Aotearoa),” Dr Davie says.

“If you’re swimming at non-monitored sites then we encourage you to check the stream bottom for what look like black mats.  If there are significant black mats and particularly if bits are breaking off then you should not swim or allow dogs to the site.”

Facts about cyanobacteria

  • The algae occur naturally but can increase rapidly during warmer months.
  • Avoid all contact if the water is cloudy, discoloured, or has small globules suspended in it.
  • Not all cyanobacteria blooms are visible to the naked eye and toxins can persist after the blooms disappear.
  • Cyanobacteria concentrations can change quickly with changing environmental conditions such as wind.
  • Avoid contact with the water if a health warning is in place.

Source: Canterbury District Health Board media release (2nd February 2017).

Smokefree Social Housing Toolkit: a guide for creating smokefree policies

SF Social Housing ToolkitCommunity and Public Health (as a member of Smokefree Canterbury) has developed a Toolkit to assist social housing providers to implement smokefree policies in social housing settings.

Improving population health has increasingly become a shared goal across many sectors including social housing. A smokefree social housing policy can result in win-wins for tenants, housing providers, and the wider community.

The Smokefree Social Housing Toolkit draws on international research as well as on Community and Public Health’s experience working with the Christchurch City Council to implement their smokefree social housing initiative.

The Toolkit includes:

  • an evidence-based rationale for smokefree social housing, and
  • guidance on policy development and implementation (including legal perspectives, organisational philosophy, leadership, and practical policy implementation).

A novel component of the Toolkit is a schematic that brings the concepts of restrictiveness and support together. The schematic illustrates how different levels of restrictiveness and support might be practically combined to form innovative, comprehensive policy styles that can be adapted for any situation or environment.

The online version of the Toolkit is interactive – providing a number of downloadable templates, checklists, survey tools, a staff training PowerPoint presentation, and links to other resources. The full Toolkit is also available as a printable PDF booklet.

New Zealanders urged to pace themselves as aftershocks continue

24 November 2016

The All Right? campaign is urging those affected by the current earthquake sequence to take extra care of themselves. The campaign was established to help Cantabrians recover from the emotional impact of the greater Christchurch earthquakes.

All Right? strategist Ciaran Fox says the current aftershocks will be having an impact on many people’s mental health. “Going through a disaster takes a toll on mental health. With each aftershock, anxiety can increase. We need to take care of ourselves and each other to prevent more serious mental distress emerging.”

Ciaran Fox says looking after your mental health is crucial. “It’s easy to dismiss the need to take time to look after yourself when you’re dealing with a crisis but the reality is it’s even more important to do so, so you cope better and don’t run out of steam.”

Ciaran Fox says there are simple things we can all do to improve our mental health – even in times of stress. “Take time to think about your energy levels. If you are feeling tired or stressed, consider ways you can recharge your batteries. Things like doing some exercise or listening to music can help pick you up – just think about what makes you feel good and take even ten minutes to do it.”

Pacing yourself is also important. “Focus on the things that are most important to you, such as family or whānau and your health. Prioritising tasks can help take pressure off yourself,” says Ciaran Fox.

“Also try and focus on the things that you can control. There are a lot of things, like road closures and broken infrastructure, that individuals can’t do much about right now. It is ok to acknowledge those things but focusing on them too much can simply leave you feeling overwhelmed.”

Ciaran Fox says routines can also help deal with uncertainty and constant change. “Try and maintain your daily or weekly routine. In a lot of cases this will be impossible due to things like school closures, so create temporary routines where you can – things like having dinner around the camp table at a particular time each day.”

Above all, Ciaran Fox says it’s important to remember that there is extra support available for those who need it. “It takes time to recover emotionally from the effects of disaster but remember you are not alone. The best place to get help is the Earthquake Support Line (0800 777 846). Getting help early can help you cope better and prevent more serious mental distress from emerging.”

Some practical tips available on the All Right? website.

Source: All Right? media release (23rd November 2016).

Cope with another dry summer by SMART watering

9 November 2016

The SMART Watering campaign is hoping to help home gardeners, lifestyle irrigators, small businesses, sports grounds and schools to apply water efficiently to cope with another dry summer.

This year’s campaign will focus on educating people in Canterbury and South Canterbury about:

  • ‘drip irrigation’ – the most efficient way to apply water,
  • the benefits of timers or controllers for home garden irrigation systems, and
  • how to store and use rainwater within the garden.

Simple things like choosing early mornings or evenings to water your plants, setting a timer on the veggie patch sprinkler, investigating rain tanks on the roof, or selecting less water-hungry plants are recommended.

The SMART Watering campaign is supported by Timaru, Ashburton, Selwyn, Mackenzie and Waimakariri District Councils, as well as Environment Canterbury.

SMART watering.

Source: Environment Canterbury media release (2nd November 2016).

Page last updated: 23/02/2016

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