Crypto cases rise to 15 as health authority urges caution

by Kim Bowden - Sep 19, 2023

National Public Health Service Southern is reporting seven fresh cases of cryptosporidium infection in Queenstown today, taking the total number of people confirmed sick with the contagious illness to 15.

It is urging people to monitor for symptoms of the infection, which include smelly, watery diarrhoea and stomach cramps.

The information comes in the health authority's first media statement since news of the outbreak broke yesterday evening with the Queenstown Lakes District Council's issuing of a boil water notice for much of urban Queenstown.

In the statement Southern Medical Officer of Health Dr Emma Sherwood asks anyone with symptoms who is in the area or has visited it in the last 12 days to call their GP and inform them.

"Cryptosporidium is a parasite found in the gut of infected people and animals," the health authority says.

"It is passed on in the faeces (poos) of infected humans and animals. People become infected when they swallow the parasites, usually in contaminated water.

"Cryptosporidium can also be spread by hands contaminated with faeces during toilet use or nappy changing. From hands it can spread to surfaces, toys, food and water. It can also spread by contact with infected animals, or in shared water such as swimming pools."

While the source of the infection has not been linked to the town water supply in central Queenstown suburbs, people there are being told by the council to boil water for one minute before consuming it, or using it for food preparation, washing food utensils, cleaning teeth, or babies' bottles, just in case.

Earlier today Crux had asked for an update on the situation from the health authority, who last week told us there was "nothing of concern" in regards to social media chatter about widespread bouts of gastro locally.

It is still unclear if these hundreds of reported cases could be linked to the cryptosporidium outbreak.

In its statement the health authority says it is working alongside the Queenstown Lakes District Council to establish the source of infection.

Meanwhile the council has also not responded to direct questions from Crux today, but in a statement to media QLDC property and infrastructure general manager Tony Avery says the council is continuing to test its water supplies as the boil water notice issued just before 6.30pm last night remains in place.

The council told Crux last week they had conducted extra water testing after hearing of a gastro bug going around but had not found anything in the water - however these tests did not have the ability to detect cryptosporidium

“Hence additional testing for crypto in the water supply has been in place following the confirmed cases. Beginning yesterday (September 18) we will be testing the raw water source and reservoir daily. Results take approximately three days and we will update the community as soon as we’re able.”

The Queenstown town water supply is sourced from Lake Wakatipu, and the presence of cryptosporidium is difficult to rule out.

However testing for the bug can be difficult and time-consuming, with one water expert saying it is tricky to rule out its existence in a water supply even with a negative test.

Mr Avery acknowledges while the number of confirmed cases remains still relatively low "cryptosporidium is a nasty bug and anyone with related symptoms should seek advice from a medical professional".

“Whilst the confirmed source is not yet known, and there is no confirmed link to the local water supply, we’re keeping the boil water notice in place in line with advice from NPHS Southern and the drinking water regulator, Taumata Arowai.”

Plenty of other water supplies around the country have filters to stop cryptosporidium, and while Mr Avery this morning admitted the council knows they're needed locally, to date funds have not been prioritised for them.

No soft drinks or coffees available at McDonald's in the Queenstown CBD today.

Residents and businesses in central Queenstown suburbs affected the notice have been today scrambling to adapt with no guarantee of safe drinking water from the town's taps.

Mr Avery says more information is being shared with the community to help minimise the effects of the boil water notice.

“Council’s environmental team are working closely with food operators and the Ministry of Primary Industries on specific measures and advice for the local hospitality sector.”

What should you do if you have cryptosporidiosis?

  • Ensure you drink plenty of fluids (if water, follow boil water notices). This is especially important for sick children as children become dehydrated easily.
  • Do not return to work, school or preschool until free of symptoms for 48 hours.
  • Do not use swimming pools, hot tubs, or splash pads for at least two weeks after your symptoms stop.
  • Avoid visiting people in hospital or long-term care facilities for at least 48 hours after your symptoms stop.
  • Wash hands regularly with soap and hot water especially after visiting the toilet. Dry hands thoroughly after washing.
  • If possible, do not prepare food for anyone else until 48 hours after your symptoms stop.
  • Disinfect toilets regularly.
  • Use your own towel; do not share with anyone else.
  • Bathe separately or bathe sick children after others.
  • Seek medical care through your GP or call Healthline if you have health concerns

Areas where people should boil water

  • Queenstown town centre (north along Gorge Road as far as and including Industrial Place)
  • Queenstown Hill
  • Frankton Road and suburbs on the hill above Frankton Road
  • Fernhill and Sunshine Bay
  • Frankton including Five Mile, Remarkables Park and Glenda Drive
  • Quail Rise and Tucker Beach Road
  • Kelvin Heights
  • Hanley’s Farm

Unaffected areas (no need to boil water)

  • Arrowtown
  • Arthurs Point
  • Lake Hayes Estate
  • Shotover Country
  • Upper Clutha
  • Any properties on a private supply - such as Jack's Point

Read more:

Queenstown scrambles after water warning

Plans for water filters but no funds as Queenstown chases cause of illness

Queenstown water scare: QLDC issues boil notice

QLDC clears water supply as Fernhill gets slammed by gastro bug


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