News & Events

October is the start of Legionnaires’ season

4 October 2018

It’s gardening season so it’s time to reach for the spade, the wheelbarrow, the gloves, and the face mask!

Canterbury Medical Officer of Health Dr Alistair Humphrey is warning gardeners to take care with bagged potting mix and compost to avoid life-threatening Legionnaire’s disease.

“Gardeners are at particularly high risk of catching Legionnaires’ disease as the bacteria thrives in bags of potting mix and compost,” says Dr Humphrey.

Dr Humphrey says 24 Cantabrians were diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease last November – the highest monthly number ever recorded. It’s possible that up to fifteen cases may have occurred during Labour weekend.

62 Cantabrians were hospitalised with the disease last year. Thirteen of these patients spent extended periods of time in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU), including one patient who was in ICU for 42 days.

“The number of cases last spring was around three times more than average. We don’t know why the bacteria was particularly virulent then. One theory is that the warmer than usual spring led to potting mix and compost heating up in the bag more than usual – creating a perfectly warm and moist environment for the bacteria to thrive.” says Dr Humphrey.

Canterbury has the country’s highest incidence rates of Legionnaire’s disease, while New Zealand has the highest reported incidence of the disease in the world.

Five simple steps to avoid Legionnaire’s disease from potting mix or compost

It is important that gardeners follow these five simple steps to avoid catching Legionnaires’ disease from potting mix or compost:

  1. Open bags of compost or potting mix carefully – use scissors instead of ripping the bag
  2. Wear a well-fitting disposable face mask and gloves. Remember not to touch your mask while gardening.
  3. Dampen down the potting mix or compost with a sprinkle of water to reduce dust.
  4. Work with potting mix or compost in a well-ventilated area outside.
  5. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling potting mix or compost, or doing any gardening.

“Legionnaires’ is a very serious illness and these simple actions can be lifesaving” says Dr Humphrey.

Symptoms of Legionnaire’s disease to look out for

Symptoms of the disease may include:

  • dry coughing
  • high fever
  • chills
  • diarrhoea
  • shortness of breath
  • chest pains
  • headaches
  • excessive sweating
  • nausea
  • vomiting, and
  • abdominal pain.

The illness may be mild but can sometimes be fatal. It is more common in older people, particularly if they smoke, have poor immunity or a chronic illness. The incubation period for the disease is up to two weeks.

Anyone who gets these symptoms should see their general practice team immediately, and let them know they have been handling potting mix or compost recently.

Source: Canterbury DHB media release (4th October 2018).

Time to ditch the old fashioned kiwi bloke mentality

6 August 2018

Canterbury men are being asked to ditch the stereotypes and just be themselves, as part of the latest campaign by All Right?

All Right? mental health promoter Ciaran Fox says the campaign is needed because many blokes still believe that to be a man they need to live up to the Kiwi bloke stereotype.

“It’s time to let go of the idea that a good Kiwi bloke should be strong, silent and stoic, and to lose the whole ‘harden up’ or ‘get over it’ mentality,” says Fox.

“Supressing the real you in order to live up to the expectations of your mates or society can be incredibly damaging. We need to move beyond those narrow stereotypes of the past and look to the future of manliness. What this campaign is all about is letting guys know that being yourself is Manly As,” says Fox.

James Milne is one of the men who have been photographed for the campaign. He says often the way the media portray men – through movies or television – is just full of clichés.

“They’re either strong and muscular, or rich and overweight with a beautiful wife. It’s not really reflective of real life. I feel like the expectations for men have moved on,” says Milne.

As for the advice Milne would give to a younger version of himself? “Be true to yourself and comfortable not to follow the crowd. I think that’s becoming more acceptable and we need to encourage that.”

Ciaran Fox says the campaign is not saying that it’s bad to be a strong, silent type – rather it’s saying if that if this isn’t you, then that’s all right. You don’t need to fit into the mould.

“It’s time to say yes to things that we want to do but we’re prevented from doing because we’re worried we’d been seen as weak or different. It’s time to acknowledge that we have feelings and emotions. It’s time to put as much focus on growing mental fitness as we do to our physical fitness. Now that is Manly As.”

Source: All Right? media release (31st July 2018).

Know the signs of stroke: Think FAST

4 June 2018

Around 24 New Zealanders have a stroke each day – about six of those are aged under 65.

A stroke will strike suddenly. Damage will move through the brain fast. But you can help if you know the signs to look for, and think and act fast.

  • FACE – Is their face drooping on one side? Can they smile?
  • ARM  – Is one arm weak? Can they raise both arms?
  • SPEECH  – Is their speech jumbled or slurred? Can they speak at all?
  • TAKE ACTION – Time is critical. Call 111 immediately.

A stroke is always a medical emergency so you should call 111 immediately – rather than your doctor, family and friends, or waiting for it to pass.

FAST: What to look for when a stroke happens.

The FAST campaign is a joint initiative between the Stroke Foundation, Ministry of Health and Health Promotion Agency.

 

Health risks of nitrates in drinking water

19 October 2017

Water pouring from a tap into a glass.Nitrate (NO3) is a compound that is formed when nitrogen combines with oxygen. Sometimes high amounts of nitrate get into drinking water. Typical sources of nitrate include:

  • fertilisers,
  • animal wastes, particularly in areas of intensified farming,
  • unreticulated sewage disposal systems, and
  • industrial and food processing waste.

Nitrate is highly soluble in water, making it readily transported through the soil to groundwater.

Negative health effects of nitrates in drinking water

High levels of nitrate can pose a risk to babies less than six months who are formula fed and the unborn foetus of pregnant women. Adults with specific rare metabolic disorders may also be at risk.

Nitrate is converted into nitrite by bacteria in the gut. This nitrite combines with foetal haemoglobin in the foetus or infant less than 6 months old, preventing oxygen from binding and being distributed around the body. Symptoms include blueness around the mouth, hands and feet – hence the name ‘blue baby’ syndrome. In severe cases it can affect breathing and be life-threatening.

Fully breastfed infants are not affected as nitrites do not enter the breast-milk. Very few cases of ‘blue baby’ syndrome have been reported in New Zealand, though nitrates in groundwater have been rising in the last twenty years.

Nitrate levels in your drinking water

Council water supplies in Canterbury currently have safe nitrate levels.

Many rural drinking water bores in Canterbury are at risk of elevated nitrate levels. Some private bores exceeding the recommended safe level of nitrates. Environment Canterbury (ECan) has produced maps identifying where nitrate levels in drinking water may be a concern – last updated in 2015.

The maps identify green, yellow and red areas:

  • Green areas are where nitrate concentrations in groundwater are always below the Maximum Acceptable Level (MAV) and the water is therefore safe to drink.
  • Red areas are where nitrate concentrations in groundwater are above the MAV most or all of the time. Alternative water sources should be used for drinking in these areas.
  • Yellow areas are where it is not known if a sample collected from a well will have nitrate concentrations exceeding the MAV. Testing is recommended in these areas.

Get your bore water tested for nitrates

The drinking water consumed by pregnant women, or formula fed babies under 6 months coming from a private bore in a medium to high risk area should be tested for nitrates.

Testing is the only way to detect nitrate as it is tasteless, odourless and colourless. There are several laboratories that are able to test for nitrate.

Drinking Water Standards for New Zealand set a Maximum Acceptable Level (MAV) of 50mg/L for nitrate, which is equivalent to 11.3mg/l nitrate-nitrogen. Some laboratories report nitrate levels whereas other report nitrate-nitrogen. Ensure that you are aware which they are reporting if you are getting your water tested.

What do if your drinking water has high nitrate levels

If tests show that nitrate levels are above or close to the MAV then pregnant women and formula-fed infants less than 6 months should use an alternative water source for drinking or making up formula.

If tests reveal that nitrate levels are above half the MAV then the water is safe to drink. However the water should be tested monthly to ensure that it does not increase over the MAV.

Nitrate levels do vary over the year. Often results are highest in spring (following rain and snow melt). High nitrate levels have been found in late summer in areas where there is extensive irrigation.

Page last updated: 24/04/2018

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