Gastroenteritis and food poisoning are a public health concern
Acute gastroenteritis is a highly contagious disease that many of us have experienced. Community and Public Health has a role in investigating cases of gastroenteritis especially if groups of people are affected at the same time.
Sources and Symptoms of Acute Gastroenteritis
Acute gastroenteritis is caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites or chemicals and can be spread in the following ways:
- Ingesting contaminated food (food poisoning) or
- Ingesting contaminated water or
- From animals or
- Direct from one person to another person or
- From contaminated objects in the environment.
The common symptoms of diarrhoea, vomiting and stomach cramps are caused by the digestive system being inflamed. These symptoms can last from a few hours, days, weeks or months depending on the cause.
What to Do if You Think You Have Food Poisoning
If you think you have food poisoning, call the Communicable Disease Team at Community and Public Health. A staff member will complete a questionnaire with you over the phone. The information is assessed to determine the likely source and cause of your illness. You may need to provide poo samples (and food specimens if available) to assist in the investigation.
Most people think the last food they ate is the cause of their illness, and this is not always true. Community and Public Health may follow up food poisoning cases where a food premise, event or location is implicated. Further investigation is then carried out and the local Council and/or Ministry for Primary Industries (Food Safety Section) notified of an issue if needed.
Barbeques can be fun but food poisoning certainly isn’t!
You need to take special care when preparing, cooking and storing food in summer. Summer brings warm moist conditions – the ideal situation for bacteria to multiply quickly and cause food poisoning. Most bacteria are killed by cooking so it is important to make sure that meat is cooked properly to ensure that no bacteria survives to make you sick.
Follow the clean, cook, cover, chill rules, but take extra care especially when barbecuing.
Here are some tips to prevent food poisoning from barbequed food:
- Make sure your barbecue and cooking tools have been cleaned with soap and water before using.
- Have separate utensils, plates and other equipment for raw and cooked foods – using just one set will mean you transfer bacteria from raw meats to cooked foods.
- Don’t place or prepare raw meat on the grill next to cooked or partially cooked meat or other ready-to-eat foods.
- Precook chicken, sausages and minced meat before barbequing. Barbecue until meat is steaming hot (over 75 degrees Celsius) all the way through – until the juices run clear and there is no pink flesh in the middle.
- Turn food regularly so that it cooks evenly.
- Marinate meat in a covered container in the fridge and cook the marinade before pouring it over cooked foods.
- Keep all food covered and cool until ready to cook or eat. Use an ice pack in a cool bag or chilly bin to keep food cold if outdoors.
Dealing with Gastroenteritis Outbreaks in Rest Homes
Cases of acute gastroenteritis caused by Norovirus are increasing in elderly care facilities like rest homes in New Zealand. These institutional outbreaks are concerning since the illness can quickly spread and the residents/patients are at greater risk of being seriously affected. Community and Public Health staff are committed to assisting rest homes deal with these infectious diseases when they happen and providing guidance to limit their impact on both staff and residents.
If a rest home suddenly experiences an increase in diarrhoea or vomiting, staff need to act quickly by taking the following steps:
- Seek infection control advice from an Infection Control Nurse at a Community Laboratory
- Contact the Communicable Disease Team at Community and Public Health to notify the outbreak to the Medical Officer of Health
- Download the following two forms. Fax the completed forms to Community and Public Health at the end of the outbreak.
The Communicable Disease Team is able to provide further advice or assistance if needed.
Contact the Communicable Disease staff at your local office for further information:
Ph: +64 3 364 1777
Fax: +64 3 379 6484
Ph: +64 3 687 2600
Fax: +64 3 688 6091
Ph: +64 3 768 1160
Fax: +64 3 768 1169