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The dead rats mystery

Toxicology testing has ruled out 1080 as a possible cause of death after about 680 rats washed up near Westport recently.

Maanaki Whenua - Landcare Research tested eight dead rats and one weka and found no residue of 1080. Post-mortem examinations of five of the rats and the weka by Massey University's School of Veterinary Science failed to determine what caused the deaths.

DOC West Coast Operations Director Mark Davies suggested a surge in rat numbers, combined with hunger and a flood could have contributed to the mass deaths, Newsroom reported.

“Rat numbers have exploded in beech forests due to heavy seeding and now seed is germinating, they are desperate for food, which can drive them into new areas and cause them to cross waterways."

The masses of dead rats were collected from North Beach over the weekend of 9-10 November. Along with the rats and weka, a dead calf, octopus, and crayfish also washed up on the Westport beach.

Pest eradication expert and scientist John Parkes told RNZ the rats may have starved to death, before being washed into rivers and then up onto the beach in the storm.

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University of Canterbury toxicologist Ian Shaw, who was not part of the testing process, was curious as to why the testing only looked for fluoroacetate (the 1080 poison) and not fluorocitrate - a chemical present in the body following 1080 exposure that lingers longer than the original toxin.

“If you’ve been poisoned with 1080 you would have high levels of fluorocitrate in your body, particularly your blood. That’s extremely well known,” Shaw said.

As well as the negative toxicology results, Davies said the rats were unlikely to have come from an area where 1080 had been used as the most recent aerial 1080 operation was 140 km upstream from Westport.

The toxicology and pathology reports are available here.

Quoted: NZ Herald

"These logs are like time machines, and we're now using their legacy to help ours."

Dr Drew Lorrey from NIWA on how AI is being trained to read old weather logs, to catalogue New Zealand's weather history.

AMR a constant threat

Fighting antimicrobial resistance (AMR) in New Zealand will mean only using antibiotics when absolutely necessary, experts and health officials say.

Credit: WHO's World Antibiotic Awareness Week

As part of World Antibiotic Awareness Week, the Ministry of Health is encouraging New Zealanders to safely dispose of old antibiotics at pharmacies, only take prescribed courses, and maintain good food and hand hygiene.

AMR is driven by antibiotic overuse in animals and people. The number of people being infected by antibiotic-resistant superbugs has been on the rise in recent years, with most infections occurring in hospitals. News emerged in October that a person in Canterbury died after contracting a superbug in an overseas hospital.

While superbug infections were very rare in New Zealand, they were increasing, Dr Joshua Freeman, Canterbury District Health Board's clinical director of microbiology and virology, told Stuff.

Freeman said that for some potentially deadly drug-resistant organisms, treatment involved using a last-line-of-defence antibiotic, colistin, which was relatively toxic.

"I'm aware of several serious invasive infections over the last two years where colistin has been the only antibiotic with activity against the infecting bacteria. This sort of thing was virtually unheard of five to six years ago."

University of Otago biochemist Kurt Krause said New Zealand had significantly less resistance than Europe or North America, but "eliminating routine antibiotic use as a growth supplement in animals," was a step we should be taking to safeguard ourselves.

Earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) listed antimicrobial resistance as one of the top 10 threats to global health, as we may lose the ability to banish once-common diseases like pneumonia, tuberculosis, and gonorrhoea.

The SMC asked experts about the current state of antimicrobial resistance in New Zealand.

Policy news & developments

Finfish consultation: Fisheries New Zealand has begun public consultation on a new Draft National Inshore Finfish Fisheries Plan.

Native forests: An iwi-led project in Hawke’s Bay has just received $480,560 through the One Billion Trees Fund to restore native forest and upskill rangatahi.

Migrane treatment: From May 2020, the medicine Cafergot, a migraine treatment used for the past 50 years, will no longer be approved for use in New Zealand.

Seabird protection: A proposed national plan of action to reduce the number of seabirds caught in fisheries is being circulated for public feedback.

Methyl bromide: Plans are being put in place to increase methyl bromide monitoring following a theoretical modelling report about how the log fumigant disperses into the environment after use.

Contraception stats: The Ministry of Health published statistics from their 2014/15 Health Survey reinforcing the importance of low-cost contraception.

Conservation milestone: The 20th anniversary of the establishment of Te Tapuwae o Rongokako Marine Reserve was celebrated at a community event in Tairāwhiti/East Coast.

Measles support: New Zealand will deploy a further 18 vaccination nurses to assist in the measles outbreak affecting Samoa.

Pest free inventions: Five new pest eradicating products are being designed and will be trialled in large scale predator control projects.

Infant formula funding: Pharmac is changing funding restrictions around amino acid infant formula, which is used as a substitute in infants who have a severe intolerance to cow's milk.

Freshwater deadline: The Otago Regional Council has been given until Christmas to outline the steps it will take to resolve the freshwater management issues determined by former Environment Court judge, Professor Peter Skelton.


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