Gastroenteritis leaped 14 times the usual levels over the 35 days following the earthquake compared to the same time frame in the previous year.
UC hazard and disaster management masters student, Sonali Weerasekara, also found key factors that appeared to have prevented gastroenteritis outbreaks at emergency centres following the earthquake nearly three years ago.
Her research looked at whether the large increase could be connected to liquefaction ground damage, infrastructure damage and the presence of gastroenteritis agents in the drinking water network.
A further aim of the study was to discover and analyse what prevented gastroenteritis outbreaks at emergency centres at Burnside High School, Cowles Stadium and Linwood High School.
The successful preventive protocols that were implemented at the emergency centres included prolific use of hand sanitisers, hygienic maintenance of the centres which offered drinking water, wastewater services, food, showers, social services and accommodation.
“There were no outbreaks of gastroenteritis recorded at these emergency centres following the 2011 earthquake. Despite populations being exposed to potential sources like E coli, this did not translate into a gastroenteritis outbreak. This suggested that the implemented protocols may have successfully prevented such an outbreak.
“I think this presents a success story that we can learn from and really further refine what we know works well, especially the practical protocols that have been tested and tried in the context of a low frequency, high consequence disaster like an earthquake.
“We can equally learn more from something that has worked great, as well as things that didn’t work and transport those lessons to other parts of New Zealand and globally,” Weerasekara says.
This research has provided an insight into the intractable nature of gastroenteritis prevalence following an earthquake. It forms the stepping-stone for amalgamating data to study infectious diseases in a post-disaster context.
Weerasekara has presented her results to emergency centre volunteering groups at Civil Defence. She will also present her findings to the Researching the Health Implications of Seismic Symposium in Christchurch on November 22.
She carried out her research at UC under the supervision of Dr Sonia Giovinazzi (civil and natural resources engineering), Dr Arin Basu (heath sciences), Dr Tom Wilson (geological sciences) and Dr Elena Moltchanova (mathematics and statistics).
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