Contaminated food blamed for outbreak at nursing home

Posted by Editorial on 14th July 2008

A public health investigation is underway at a Blue Mountains nursing home following a recent outbreak of gastroenteritis in residents of Endeavour Nursing Home in Springwood.

Dr Jeremy McAnulty, Acting Deputy Chief Health Officer, said Sydney West public health officials are investigating two outbreaks which occurred in mid and late June, affecting 25 and 58 residents respectively.

“Affected residents experienced mild symptoms, consisting of one to two days diarrhoea,” Dr McAnulty advised. “While most cases occurred in the nursing home section, some also occurred among residents who self-care in a different area. During the outbreak period, 10 residents died from a variety of apparently unrelated conditions. Some of these residents had experienced mild diarrhoea.”

“Sydney West Public Health Unit and the NSW Food Authority are working closely with nursing home management staff to investigate the cause of the outbreak and to ensure there are no ongoing risks to residents,” Dr McAnulty reported.

Dr McAnulty said test results from a number of ill residents have identified a toxin from the bacterium Clostridium perfringens.

“Infection with this germ is characterised by sudden onset of diarrhoea of brief duration, often with stomach cramps, 10 to 12 hours after ingestion of contaminated food.”

Dr McAnulty said the peak of the last outbreak was 14 days ago, and the risk of further illness is believed to be low.

“However all precautions are being taken, including an epidemiological investigation and re-inspection of all food handling procedures, to protect other residents,” Dr McAnulty said.

NSW Food Authority officers have inspected the facility and found no obvious problem. All food handling protocols and practices were found to be of a high standard. Food samples collected from the facility were found not to contain any harmful bacteria.

An expert panel has been convened to provide input to the outbreak investigation, and is helping to guide action. As a precaution, the nursing home has implemented additional control measures during food preparation and an officer was on-site on Friday to monitor staff and food handling procedures.