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Coping with the outbreak of campylobacter: coping with the recent campylobacter outbreak which devastated Havelock North was a professional and personal challenge for a Hawke's Bay nurse practitioner.

Growing up in the idyllic village atmosphere of Havelock North in the 1960s, '70s and '80s, I never envisaged that, in 2016, I would be writing about such a devastating event in my home town--the Campylobacter outbreak, which affected thousands.

I am writing this from two perspectives --that of a nurse and a daughter. My story is probably not unique, as many nursing colleagues would also have cared for an ill relative --professionally and personally--during the outbreak.

There have been a number of negative features of this event. The extent and impact of the outbreak defies belief in this day and age, when we are all advised by Civil Defence, local authorities and the Government to be prepared in case of a Civil Defence emergency. This situation ended up a bit like one and it appears that, while many people were prepared, the powers that be were not. Hopefully, lessons have been learned from this and no other community has to suffer a similar fate.

From a professional perspective, lama nurse practitioner in a general practice in rural Central Hawke's Bay and I was also working at our Hastings general practice and accident and medical (A&M) centre. The impact of the outbreak was felt most strongly in the Hastings A&M centre, with queues of patients and a number of staff and their families also struck down by the infection. This left us with a service stretched both by extra patients and a depleted work force, requiring much frantic rearranging of calendars--a situation likely to have been much worse in the Havelock North practices in the centre of the infected area.

It was a tough time for all in the health-care sector and my heartfelt thanks and congratulations go to my colleagues for their dedication and perseverance. I remain frustrated at the sporadic nature of communication from Hastings District Council and the Hawke's Bay District Health Board. We were receiving bits and pieces of information, mainly via social media, and often late. There were conflicting stories and advice, particularly around water testing, and this was confusing for us as health professionals, let alone for the public. Clearer and more timely communication would have helped those on the frontline and also potentially limited the numbers affected.

From a personal perspective, the outbreak affected our family in numerous ways. Firstly, it scuppered my parents' plans to travel to Wellington to visit my brothers, and celebrate with one of them his 50th birthday. My parents are in their 80s and neither can drive that distance--and they rarely see their sons unless my sister or I take them down. My father has an extensive cardiac history and my mother has type 2 diabetes--thankfully she had only been drinking hot drinks and escaped infection. On the other hand, my father was drinking water from the tap, which was filtered, but that did not remove the "lovely" Campylobacter.

On that fateful Friday, August 12, when the outbreak was taking hold, my father had taken my mother out shopping but wasn't feeling well--he was cold, achy and suffering from abdominal pain. In the afternoon, my mother and I returned home from our hair appointments to find he had put himself to bed, which he never does, being of the old and stoic variety. He felt so terrible, he thought his heart was giving up and this was his final curtain call. As a dutiful daughter, I told him he had to keep his fluids up and, if he experienced any chest pain or shortness of breath, they were to phone the ambulance--oops, slipped into nurse mode again. Meanwhile, I gave him glasses of unboiled water. Do I feel bad? Yes, but at that stage, we didn't know about the problem with the water supply. Later that day, my sister, who works at Hawke's Bay Regional Hospital, heard about the gastroenteritis problem and contacted us. Boy, did that unboiled water disappear fast, replaced by cooled boiled water. It took my father 10 days to recover.

I became increasingly frustrated with the media portrayal of the support residents were receiving--supposedly. Red Cross and Civil Defence were checking on residents and making deliveries of fresh water. Nobody went near my parents' place or that of their neighbours. If it wasn't for the fact they had two daughters living nearby to help them and, thankfully, phone contact from their sons, Age Concern and their GP practice, they could have been like so many people in the area, who suffered unnecessarily because of a lack of communication and community spirit.

What I have taken from this situation is the importance of communication, of community spirit, of caring for each other, and the need for transparency. Communication needs to be honest, open and two-way.

Yvonne Little, RN, PGDip, MN, NP(primary health care across the lifespan), works at The Doctors, Waipawa, Central Hawke's Bay.
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Title Annotation:viewpoint; Hawke's Bay, New Zealand
Author:Little, Yvonne
Publication:Kai Tiaki: Nursing New Zealand
Geographic Code:8NEWZ
Date:Nov 1, 2016
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