Tell us more about shewanella, minister

The story about a flesh-eating algae on page 1 of today's edition raises several questions, questions Health Minister Jack Snelling, SA Health or another government agency ought to answer.

How many cases of shewanella have been reported in SA? When and where?

Is the bacteria really present in the River Murray, or is it only in sea water?

Should this be a notifiable disease, subject to public warnings when cases emerge?

Because I'd like to know if three people had caught it at my usual swimming spot in any given week.

We phoned Mr Snelling's media advisor to seek a comment and, receiving no answer, sent an email to ask whether the minister was aware of shewanella algae in South Australian waters and whether he believed the public needed to be warned about the danger.

Mr Snelling's office had not responded at the close of business yesterday.

We also asked SA Health how many cases had been reported and whether they should be subject to public notification, but the expert to whom they referred us would not have known.

This sort of story scares people.

Having spoken to Bill Andrews and seen the awful photos from his time in hospital, I'm less inclined than I already was to swim in the river.

So I can understand why our state government would not want to issue a general warning.

Imagine the alarm in the tourism industry at the thought of a deadly bacteria chasing visitors away.

In that sense, we did not want to make a song and dance about it either, as we don't like to act all sensational; but it is a sensation.

Phrases like "flesh-eating" bring to mind exotic and tropical parts of the world.

Bill said it himself: even in hospital, the doctors and nurses crowded around his bed to get a look at him because his condition was so rare.

At least that rarity can be our solace.

In researching the story, I looked for examples of prior cases in Australia, and found only two: in Queensland in 2003-04, reported by the ABC, and in Sydney in January 2014, from a mention in a New South Wales Health report.

But we would like to – and deserve to – know more.

Peri Strathearn


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