Pathology at Coffs Harbour hospital
Pathology at Coffs Harbour hospital Trevor Veale

WARNING: Bacterial outbreak alarming

AN OUTBREAK of a water-borne bacterial disease among farm workers on the North Coast has alarmed health authorities.

Fourteen workers have presented at Coffs Harbour Hospital recently to be diagnosed with potentially fatal leptospirosis, bringing the total for the year to 23, well above the state average.

Last year there were 20 cases in NSW. In 2016 there were 14 cases, in 2015 there were 16 cases and in 2014 there were 14 cases. The worst years on record were 2001 with 65 and 2011 with 40 cases.

NSW Opposition health spokesman Walt Secord has called on the government to expedite an investigation into the outbreak of the disease.

Mr Secord and Opposition primary industries spokesman Mick Veitch said the report was "alarming” and demanded the government step up public health warnings, especially for workers in the agriculture sector.

"It is very worrying that the Berejiklian Government waited until there were 14 confirmed cases before notifying the community,” Mr Secord said.

Mr Veitch said the government should be more proactive in responding to the health and safety needs of farmers and agriculture workers.

"It is extraordinary that we have had the largest number of cases since 2011,” he said.

NSW Health says only farm workers have been affected in the mid-North Coast outbreak.

It is understood all 14 cases were infected by a strain found worldwide in rats and mice.

The North Coast Public Health Unit is working with farmers and Safe Work NSW to investigate the cause of the outbreak.

Leptospirosis is a bacterial disease of humans and animals - caused by leptospira bacteria that are found in infected animal urine and animal tissues. It is treated with antibiotics.

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