9 Feb 2016

Growers on alert for typhoid among workers

6:14 am on 9 February 2016
A commercial apple picking basket with ladder in orchard.

Photo: 123RF

The Ministry for Primary Industries (MPI) and the Ministry of Health said growers working under Good Agricultural Practice programmes were already doing the right things to minimise the risk, but everyone should be on alert.

The infectious disease was not widespread in New Zealand, but officials said there was potential for workers coming here from countries where typhoid was prevalent to bring it with them.

Motueka Fruitgrowers Association chair Simon Easton said there had been talk of it in the past, but growers were not aware it had ever occurred among seasonal workers.

"I do know all the guys get pretty thorough medical checks before they come over - it's part of their visa requirements, and we pretty well monitor [it]... We have good pastoral care for guys who are unwell. We're on to it pretty quick," Mr Easton said.

According to public health services, most cases notified in New Zealand were associated with overseas travel.

Auckland's public health unit received up to 30 notifications of typhoid in the region each year.

Nelson Marlborough District Health Board medical officer of health Dr Andrew Lindsay said typhoid fever was a bacterial illness.

"Typhoid bacteria can be transferred from the contamination of food - usually from contamination from faeces or urine, and that may be because of poor hand hygiene and food handling practises. That may the cause of transmitting it."

Dr Lindsay said in the most serious cases it could be fatal - and advised what to watch out for.

"The symptoms of typhoid fever are generally poor appetite, abdominal pain, headache and fever. You can have intestinal bleeding, and in the most serious cases it can be fatal in a number of people. However, those who are treated, the mortality rate is a lot lower."

Mr Easton said the most they had dealt with so far was minor skin ailments and the odd sore throat, and foreign workers had good medical cover.

"The thing is all our guys have their own medical insurance, which is a really good system, so they're not going to be a drain on the New Zealand taxpayer."

While the threat was marginal, he said, they did not take the alerts lightly.

"It's never been an issue that I'm aware of, but it's one of those things where we'd just monitor our guys and get onto it straight away if something does arise, which is very unlikely."

MPI said the risk of spreading the infection through working in the horticulture sector was minimal, as there was high awareness among workers and commercial operators of the risks of contaminating fresh produce during handling.

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