Playground partygoers felled by bug

22:27, Mar 18 2014

At least 70 people fell badly ill after a "faecal incident" on a slide at an indoor playground sparked a norovirus outbreak.

Public health authorities are calling for stricter measures at indoor playgrounds after the "code brown" at Chipmunks Playland and Cafe in Tawa, when children and adults at 10 separate birthday parties were infected.

Regional Public Health is urging parents to keep sick children away from public areas, especially playgrounds and pools, when cases of accidental diarrhoea or vomiting might spread disease.

One parent of two sick children described the outbreak that struck down 71 people - more than half of whom were children - as a nightmare. Victims suffered vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain after the busy Saturday session.

Others took to the Chipmunks Facebook page to voice their thoughts.

"Not impressed - our entire children's party was taken out by this bug," Melinda Jones wrote.


"Good on Chipmunks for being proactive and also telling people," Karyn Boyle wrote.

In the latest Public Health Surveillance Report, Wellington public health medical registrar Andrea McDonald and medical officer of health Annette Nesdale said an investigation after the incident in August last year found the facility was clean, and there were no food hygiene concerns.

The outbreak was traced to diarrhoea left on a slide by a sick child. However, it was noted the playground had limited ventilation, there was no policy on vomiting or diarrhoea incidents, or whose responsibility the cleanup was, and parents were not being advised against bringing in sick children.

Adults and children needed to be actively excluded from such public places, and it was the responsibility of the playground to do so, they said.

Playgrounds should have policies for accidents, including a cleanup procedure and incident documentation. More thorough cleaning, with proper disinfectants, and better ventilation were needed. Chipmunks had been fully co-operative during the investigation, they said.

"Indoor playgrounds have a high risk of spreading infection, but the recommendations made following this outbreak have led to widespread improvements.

"The scale of the outbreak at the facility highlights the importance of public health control measures in this environment, which is akin to an early childhood centre."

The Chipmunks franchise had made changes across its 16 playgrounds in New Zealand, 12 in Australia and nine in Indonesia since the Tawa incident, marketing and communications manager Elaine Russell said.

That included installing signs to warn parents against bringing in sick children, verbal and visual screening of potential customers, reviewing clean-up protocols, and having sanitiser units in all playgrounds.

The owners had informed customers on their Facebook page and website, as well as closing Chipmunks voluntarily for two days at their own expense to decontaminate the complex.

Another outbreak case in the latest Public Health Surveillance Report documented 10 cases of giardia in the Bay of Plenty after a toddler had diarrhoea during a swimming lesson at a public pool.


A common viral infection that causes a disease variously known as viral gastroenteritis, winter vomiting bug or the 24-hour tummy bug. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, abdominal pain, muscle aches, headaches, tiredness, and mild fever.

Spread by faecally contaminated water or food, or by personal contact.

Outbreaks can be prevented by washing hands before using a toilet, changing nappies or making food. Infections can spread rapidly anywhere big groups of people gather together.

The Dominion Post