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Handwashing key to preventing campylobacter

Handwashing key to preventing spread of campylobacter and cryptosporidiosis

Hawke’s Bay District Health Board’s public health unit is issuing a reminder about hand washing in a bid to stop the rising incidence of campylobacter and cryptosporidiosis.

“At this time of year we frequently see a rise in these diseases which can be passed from animals to humans, especially when children are playing with lambs and calves and not washing and drying their hands properly before eating,” says Dr Caroline McElnay, medical officer of health.

“Calves and lambs can carry the cryptosporidium parasite in their faeces, while campylobacter bacteria is also carried by most household pets. Other sources of both diseases include untreated water, and some foods including untreated milk, inadequately cooked meats, with ‘pink’ chicken a culprit in many cases.

“Chicken should be cooked until the juices run clear, and raw meats should always be stored at the bottom of the fridge, with cooked meats above to prevent cross contamination. Separate chopping boards and knives should also be used to cut raw and cooked meats, and they should be washed with hot soapy water between using for raw or cooked meat.

There have been 444 cases of campylobacter this year, compared to 338 for the same period last year. 167 cases have been notified since the start of August.

While there are fewer cases of cryptosporidiosis, with 24 cases this year compared to 26 for the same period last year, 14 cases were notified during the first eight months of this year, with twelve reported since the beginning of September.

Last year 12 cases were reported between January and August, with notifications climbing to 19 in September and 20 in October – when there is more contact between children and lambs and calves.

Handwashing is the most effective way of preventing these diseases being spread from animals to humans. It’s important to use soap, and spend at least 30 seconds washing your hands, rinse well under warm water and dry on a clean towel. The drying is almost as important as the washing, as wet hands can still carry bacteria.

“Hands should be washed with soap and water after contact with any animals, after going to the toilet or changing a baby’s nappy, and before handling food or eating, drinking or smoking.

“It’s also important to remember that if you have had diarrhoea, you should not swim in a public swimming pool for at least two weeks after the diarrhoea has stopped, as this can spread disease,” Dr McElnay said. “Everyone swimming in a public pool should shower before entering the pool, and babies should swim in tight-fitting togs, not nappies, to prevent faecal matter getting into the water,” Dr McElnay said.

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