Havelock North woman with Guillain Barre Syndrome may never drink tap water again
A mother of eight suffering from a serious neurological disorder after contracting campylobacteriosis in the Havelock North gastro outbreak says she and her family may never drink tap water again.
Single mum April Singh, 41, was one of 5200 people affected by the outbreak last month and has since developed Guillain Barre Syndrome (GBS), which can develop in the weeks after a campylobacter infection.
The illness has left her unable to work at her cleaning job, but the illness is not covered by ACC. However, a leading ACC lawyer says she may be able to sue for damages.
Singh was admitted to Hawke's Bay Hospital last Friday and tests later confirmed she had GBS, which sees the body's immune system attack nerves that control movement and feeling.
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Singh said after the symptoms of campylobacteriosis largely ceased, she still experienced stomach cramps and she developed swollen hands, tingling fingers and feet. She also noticed it was getting harder to breathe.
Singh returned to working as a cleaner after having two weeks sick with campylobacter but she had to give up the job after two days as she was unable to hang on to a vacuum cleaner.
"I couldn't vacuum or stand for long periods of time. I'm a pretty strong person and this isn't me," she said.
"I've gone from being a real strong person to being a weakling".
Singh put up with the pain for a while before eventually going to the Hastings medical centre on September 3. She was told there that she may have fibromyalgia and she went home. Five days later, when things hadn't improved, she went to her GP, who sent her to hospital.
"I went in on Thursday evening, but when they told me the tests I'd need to have I left. I was too scared. But I was called back in the next morning. They told me how important it was that I get a lumbar puncture to see if it was GBS and that I could end up being paralysed if I didn't," she said.
While in hospital she was given a litre of synthetic blood product every day intravenously.
"That wasn't much fun".
"I'm still feeling it. I'm still not that well. It feels like I've got constant pins and needles. I can't feel my legs properly. I'm told there's no way of knowing what the outcome might be just yet. It could get better, it could get worse." she said.
Singh was surprised that no-one from the council contacted her or sent her a card while she was in hospital, or since.
"I was really upset to be honest. I wasn't happy being away from my family all those days, and I really didn't want to give up my job, or go through all that testing. I don't like being out of action," she said.
Singh is not eligible for ACC cover as under the ACC Act 2001 the inhalation or ingestions of a virus, bacteria, protozoa or fungus is not considered an accident, unless it's the result of a criminal act by another person.
She may be eligible for some assistance from Work and Income.
Leading ACC lawyer John Miller said the fact that the illness was not covered by ACC meant Singh and others affected by the outbreak may be able to sue for damages.
"In order to sue they would need to find some negligence. If she could find someone at fault for the contamination of the water and her subsequent illness, yes she could sue for damages. No-one has really tested that 'criminal action' and it may be that a breach of a regulation, for example, is sufficient for the 'criminal action," Miller said.
Singh said all but two of her children had been ill during the outbreak. The older kids, in their late teens, cared for the others while Singh was in hospital.
"We haven't drank tap water since it happened. I think we'll be on bottled water from now on," Singh said.
Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule said he had "every intention" of visiting Singh and a meeting time would be scheduled. He had not wanted to bother her while she was being treated in hospital, he said.
Guillain Barre Syndrome
GBS is an autoimmune disorder, where the body's immune system attacks its own tissues. The immune cells attack the myelin sheath - the fatty substance covering nerve fibres. The myelin sheath insulates and protects the nerve fibres and assists with the passage of impulses throughout the nervous system. If the myelin sheath is damaged, messages from the brain may be slowed or blocked completely.
The risk of progression from campylobacter to GBS was about one in 1700 in New Zealand.
There are about 100 cases of GBS a year in New Zealand and 30 of them are related to campylobacter.
Hawke's Bay Hospital physician Andrew Burns said other residents of the suburb who experienced pins and needles, weakness or clumsiness of hands or feet should seek medical help quickly.
"Early treatment of this condition can impact on the severity, so early diagnosis is important," he said.
People can call Healthline 24/7 free on 0800 611 116, contact their family doctor or visit after hours services to get a health professional's advice.