4 Apr 2017

Family shocked to learn of typhoid death

10:45 pm on 4 April 2017

Distraught family members of a woman who died of typhoid last week say Auckland health officials did not tell them she had the disease.

Auckland Hospital

Auckland Hospital Photo: RNZ/ Bradley Ambrose

The woman is one of up to 18 people who have become ill in a typhoid outbreak over the past 10 days or so.

Health officials said this morning the woman who died was hospitalised with serious health issues. The typhoid infection was a complicating factor.

She died in Auckland Hospital last Tuesday. Officials first notified the public of the outbreak on Friday.

Jerome Mika

Jerome Mika Photo: Twitter

The Samoan woman was buried yesterday. The Auckland Regional Public Health Service (ARPHS) said it delayed releasing information about the death to allow time for funeral arrangements.

Family members told RNZ they believed she died of salmonella, but today learned she died of typhoid. They were shocked and upset to find out through the media. A doctor asked family whether they had travelled and if they had a fever but did not explain why, a relative said.

Health service clinical director Dr Julia Peters said officials were in contact with the family. They agreed with them and their church not to make the death public until today.

She said doctors looking after the woman in hospital should have told her family she died of typhoid.

Family spokesperson Jerome Mika said that was not the case.

He said the family did not realise the cause of death given on the certificate, Salmonella typhi, was typhoid.

Mr Mika said the woman's husband did not speak English and, if he was told it was typhoid, he might not have fully understood because he was in so much shock.

The undertaker who prepared the family's funeral, Ese Tatupu, told RNZ there would have been no risk to the family once he had fully prepared her body for the funeral.

Health Minister questions delay

Health authorities have confirmed that, excluding the woman who died, 15 people had typhoid and there were two further probable cases.

Health Minister Jonathan Coleman earlier questioned why it took so long to warn the public about the outbreak.

He said he expected information about outbreaks to be released in a timely and appropriate way. "It's important that communications in this sort of instance are really clear."

Mr Coleman said he was advised the outbreak came from someone returning from the Pacific Islands with the disease.

Dr Peters said they wanted to give the church time to make the funeral arrangements, and church members were co-operative.

"It makes absolutely no difference to the public health measures that we need to take," she said.

Infected group from same church

Dr Peters said the people who caught typhoid were from the same Samoan church, but lived in different parts of south and central Auckland. They were being treated in hospital.

The health service said it seemed likely that, as a group of cases emerged about the same time late last week, they were infected at the same time or place.

"We are working with the church to trace other people who may be infected and we are doing this while they are mourning the loss of one of their own," Dr Peters said.

Pacific Island community worried

Mangere MP Su'a William Sio said the Pacific Island community was worried the outbreak would get worse.

Mr Sio said public health authorities had not provided enough information and it took them too long to respond.

Concerned members of the Pacific Island community had approached him, he said.

Typhoid is a serious illness. It is potentially fatal, but can be treated with antibiotics.

Symptoms include a high fever developing over several days, headaches, general weakness and muscle aches. Stomach pain and constipation are also common but some people get diarrhoea.

Auckland got about 30 cases of typhoid a year, but they were usually individual cases where someone was infected overseas.