Chch hepatitis cluster 'confined'

Health authorities are confident a cluster of hepatitis A cases in Christchurch is confined to one family, but they say the cases show how difficult life is for those living in poor-quality and overcrowded house after the earthquakes.

Twelve cases of hepatitis A have been confirmed in Christchurch in the past two weeks. The city normally has only a handful of isolated cases each year.

Canterbury medical officer of health Alistair Humphrey said extensive testing by public health officials had confirmed the outbreak was confined to one large extended family living in Christchurch's eastern suburbs.

'There's no-one else affected outside the family. We've checked and we're confident it hasn't spread.''

He said health officials had ''quite a lot of work'' to do to help the family improve their living conditions and hygiene practices, especially around hand-washing.

''It's quite sensitive. We're going to have to sit down with them and sensibly go through how we can avoid this [happening again]," he said.

Most of those affected were children, including at least three who attended Linwood North Primary School. 

Humphrey said the family were poor and living in overcrowded conditions. Family members in six households had been affected, including one housing 14 people.

''This is an example of how different life is post-quake for some families,'' he said.

''They're hard-working, they're battling to keep things going, but they've got many people living in their households, so they've got to be doubly vigorous. They need all the support they can get.''

The disease was believed to have been contracted while some of the family members were overseas.

It was spread to several other members of the family when they returned to Christchurch. 

Ministry of Health information shows hepatitis A is rare in New Zealand, but those travelling overseas can be at risk.

High-risk areas include Africa, Asia, Central and South America and the Middle East.

It is spread through contact with the faeces of an infected person and can be passed on through close personal contact, poor personal hygiene, sharing personal items like toothbrushes or towels and through contaminated food, including shellfish from infected sewage.

Early symptoms can be mistaken for the flu, and some people, especially children, can have no symptoms.

Later symptoms can include fever, jaundice, anorexia, nausea, abdominal discomfort, malaise and dark urine.

The Press