Missed email to blame for 48-hour delay in Queenstown's cryptosporidium outbreak

Queenstown Lakes District's Mayor has admitted 48 hours were lost in issuing a boil water notice and notifying the public of the first cryptosporidium cases.

As of Friday, the boil water notice that had been in place since September has been lifted, but now Newshub can reveal further details about the communication breakdown sparked by a missed email.

'Troubled by the approach' - senior Council official

At 8:44pm on Saturday, September 16 an email from the on-call public health officer landed in the inbox of Queenstown Lakes District Council's (QLDC) environmental health department.

"Kia ora, we were notified of four confirmed cryptosporidiosis cases, one case also with yersiniosis," the email started before detailing specific information of each case.

The problem was the email was missed.

"Obviously no one is in Council offices during the weekend and so obviously the person who owns the email address saw it on that Monday morning," Mayor Glyn Lewers told Newshub.

"To have it sitting at let's say officer, officer level over that period of time I think it should've either got escalated or actually some positive steps of picking up a phone."

Te Whatu Ora declined to do an interview but said in a statement it did try to call.

"QLDC informed us that there was no environmental officer on-call, so we followed up this phone call with an email," Medical Officer of Health Dr Michael Butchard said.

Council officials kicked into action by issuing a boil water notice on Monday, September 18.

"There's 48 hours there that we've lost and we could've got that boil water notice out sooner," Mayor Lewers added.

An Official Information Act request reveals a senior council official was "troubled by the approach from (PHS) Public Health Service to notify us though - via email on a Saturday".

Timeline of cryptosporidium cases

Documents also reveal public health officials were investigating cases earlier in the week. 

September 11 - An electronic laboratory notification revealed a positive cryptosporidiosis test result from Queenstown.

September 13 - Two further positive cryptosporidiosis test results were notified from Queenstown. These cases were sent postal questionnaires.

September 16 - Lakes District Hospital notified authorities of three additional positive cryptosporidiosis test results. These three cases were called by public health.

Queenstown's Mayor didn't know about the investigation into the earlier cases.

"Well actually this is the first I've actually heard of that," Mayor Lewers said. "Yeah, actually I would've appreciated a heads-up on it."

In response Dr Butchard told Newshub determining whether drinking water is a suspected cause is a process of elimination, based on data collected from interviewing a number of cases.

"Te Whatu Ora did not notify QLDC on 11 September about the single case of cryptosporidiosis since we were not able to interview the case, therefore not able to determine that drinking water was a likely source of infection," he said.

'Highly infectious' - Parasitologist

Timing is crucial in an outbreak.

"This does take a little time. However, we would like notifications to occur certainly within five days," added Professor Bruce Russell, a parasitologist at the University of Otago.

Although Prof Russell believes the timing was appropriate, he also warns crypto can easily spread.

"Cryptosporidium is highly infectious. You only need to be infected by one of these little spores or eggs and you'll get the infection."

A local inter-agency debrief is due to be held next week which is likely to cover inter-agency processes.