Campsite hygiene questioned after gastro bug cases

The Department of Conservation (DOC) needs to review its cleaning regime for campsites in Golden Bay, the owner of a private campgound in the area says.

There have been more reports of gastroenteritis in Nelson-Tasman, after trampers recently became sick in the Nelson Lakes area.

Pohara Top 10 Holiday Park owner Brent Clarke said he was worried cases reported in nearby Totaranui, in the Abel Tasman National Park, could turn into a repeat of 2010. The campground at Golden Bay’s Tukurua Beach was closed that year, and its campers quarantined, after an outbreak of norovirus.

DOC reported a little over a week ago that a group of trampers had fallen ill with a gastro bug in part of the Nelson Lakes National Park. It said isolated cases had shown up in Totaranui, and there were reports of other people getting sick in parts of Kahurangi National Park.

The department said it was working with public health officials, and it had deployed extra cleaning and sanitising routines.

Mr Clarke said the department should have increased its cleaning schedules earlier.

He was concerned about the possibility the bug could be introduced to his or other campsites by campers who might have been infected elsewhere.

“They [DOC] all of a sudden decide that they have a tummy bug and they’re going to up their cleaning schedules to twice a day with a chlorine-based product. Why were they not doing that before?

“If we end up with a bug from a neighbouring park, which could easily happen with a guest coming here, I’d be very disappointed and upset for our guests,” Mr Clarke said.

He said campsites like his were cleaned five times over a 24-hour period, bathrooms and door handles were disinfected and hand sanitisers were placed at doorways. They also monitored for signs of illness among guests.

Mr Clarke said while facilities at DOC-run campsites were different to commercial camping grounds, he did not accept cleaning systems should be any different.

He said it was possible some of the problem was product-related, and it was possible to improve sanitation with the use of a foaming-gun attached to the end of a hose.

“You put the product in and then plug the hose in – it’s no different to hosing but you’re killing the bugs.”

Isolated cases

DOC operations manager John Wotherspoon said the cases remained isolated and they were working closely with public health officials to monitor the situation.

Mr Wotherspoon said staff at Totaranui had stepped up the hygiene and cleaning routine, using a strong bleach solution to disinfect facilities twice daily.

It was not possible to compare DOC’s camping grounds with private establishments, he said.

“We’ve got a very different situation to private campgrounds. Backcountry huts for example are an entirely different situation. Sometimes we’ve got hut wardens there; sometimes we haven’t. I think we’re doing everything we can – we’re doing our best to stay on top of it, but it’s a battle.”

Nelson Marlborough medical officer of health Ed Kiddle said the virus had not spread in the form of an outbreak but residual cases remained.

“People may not be aware that norovirus is a highly infectious virus that can survive on surfaces such as basins, benches and door handles for several days,” Dr Kiddle said.

He said people with gastro in their systems, or those who had been exposed to it by friends and family, were urged to postpone camping or tramping trips to avoid spreading it further.

“People can be infectious for up to 48 hours after symptoms cease,” Dr Kiddle said.

People who were otherwise well and who intended to head into these areas needed to remember basic hygiene rules around washing hands and using sanitiser.

They should “prepare for the worst” by packing paper towels, soap and hand sanitiser, and a small bottle of bleach, he said.

If they fell ill while tramping or camping, they should isolate themselves as much as possible and consider going home to recover.