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

Call the Communicable Disease Team at Community and Public Health if you think you have food poisoning. 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. However symptoms can take from 30 minutes to over 10 days to start. 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.

Dealing with gastroenteritis outbreaks in aged care and education settings

Cases of acute gastroenteritis are increasing in health care facilities or education settings in New Zealand. These institutional outbreaks are concerning since the very young and elderly are at greater risk of being seriously affected. Community and Public Health staff are committed to assisting these settings deal with these infectious diseases when they happen and providing guidance to limit their impact on everyone involved.

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 Outbreak Notification and Case Log 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.



Download or order resources from the Community Health Information Centre.


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

Be food safe this Christmas

Sharing a delicious festive feast with family and friends is a much-anticipated part of Christmas, but the warm weather does bring some risks to our meals over this time.

Page last updated: 30/11/2020

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