For wellbeing of all, just get the damn water tested

FEELING BETTER: They’re happy now but Mollie, 4, and Kyle Bendall, 3, were very sick when they drank contaminated house water.
FEELING BETTER: They’re happy now but Mollie, 4, and Kyle Bendall, 3, were very sick when they drank contaminated house water.

At the risk of sounding like a harpy, I am going to re-address the water topic I was banging on about a few weeks ago.

Normally healthy, robust Kiwi dairy farmers and their families are getting struck down with terrible vomiting and diarrhoea causing stomach bugs.

It comes as a shock when for the third time since moving to the new job in June you all get terribly sick.

My eldest daughter, Courtney, is now the biggest advocate for the need to get water at a new farm job tested before drinking from the tap.

She knows all about what bad water can do to a family; how, with little or no warning, everyone can start vomiting.

A poorly set up water system with no non-return valve on a trough that hooked into house water, which led to back-flushing from the trough straight into the taps in her farm house - this is how it happened to her.

We know it was the water because she never used it or drank it. But she went to town one afternoon and left the man about the house in charge of the children.

Then things got messy for the kids and the man in charge. Later that night, he lay swearing he would never drink water again, admitting he should have listened to her.

Courtney has been talking to friends with similar experiences this season and feels justified in being a harpy like her mum, especially when the water tests come back positive for E coli, campylobacter and salmonella.

Google and I spent a rainy Northland day together on the couch looking into this and what became blindingly obvious was that the "facts" were incorrect. The rate of all of these illnesses was extremely high, but the figures were only based on the ones that made it to the doctors.

Studies have found that New Zealand had the highest rate of campylobacter in the developed world - three times higher than England and Wales, and 10 times higher than the United States. More than 75,000 New Zealanders contract the illness every year and more than 500 will need a stay in hospital.

People saying "Aw, kids have to build up an immune system" is the most ridiculous thing I have heard. Yes, they do, but not at the risk of severe dehydration and hospitalisation because of 48 hours of continual vomiting, high temperatures and uncontrollable stomach cramps.

Campylobacter has an incubation period of one to 10 days. Symptoms can be mild to severe and are flu-like. Foul- smelling liquid diarrhoea will quickly follow stomach cramps. Expect fever, vomiting, tiredness, muscle pain, headaches and dehydration to last two to five days. Not exactly something to look forward to, is it?

E coli has an incubation period of three to nine days before the first symptoms appear. This little gem will give you stomach cramps, vomiting and diarrhoea that may contain blood. You may get a fever but it will usually be less than 38.5 degrees Celsius. This can all last five to seven days.

Salmonella's incubation period can be as quick as six hours or as late as 72 hours, more commonly 12 to 36 hours. The symptoms are as exciting as the other two, with stomach pains, diarrhoea possibly containing blood, fever, nausea and vomiting. It can last from several days to several weeks. But wait, 1 per cent of infected adults and 5 per cent of infected children aged under five can excrete salmonella bacteria for more than a year.

Giardia is another common water-borne bacteria.

All these illnesses can be picked up in various ways, but it amazes me just how many people keep getting sick when it doesn't register with them that it might be the water. Saying "It tastes OK" or "It looks clear enough" doesn't make it bacteria-free.

I think a requirement for water testing should be mandatory in employment contracts - at the farm owner's expense. And for good measure, let's include a requirement for house water tanks to be part of the pre-moving house inspection. These need regular emptying and cleaning.

If rain water is supplied, then the catchment area and reticulation is the owner's responsibility, so they can adhere to clauses of the health and safety regulations that are part of any tenancy agreement.

Come on team, it's not that hard. Just get the damn water tested. Own up to your responsibilities.

* Louise Giltrap is a Northland dairy farmer who loves to hear from readers - gsgiltrap@xtra.co.nz