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CSIRO employee's claim her water was contaminated with faeces rejected by tribunal

A CSIRO media manager who says she contracted a virus after drinking water contaminated with faeces at a conference has lost her bid for compensation.

The Administrative Appeals Tribunal found federal workplace insurer Comcare had no liability for her ill-health as it could not be certain of the type of virus, where it had been contracted, or if it could cause chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS).

Sasha Hardcastle reported flu-like symptoms on the third day of the 2012 conference and was rushed to hospital a week later with chest pain.

Mrs Hardcastle saw a number of doctors when her health did not improve over the following months, and was diagnosed with post viral fatigue and CFS.

She claimed that she had contracted Coxsackie B virus at the conference after she drank water contaminated with faeces due to the jug being filled from the hand basin in the ladies' toilets.

The communications manager took her case to the tribunal after Comcare rejected her compensation claim.

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There is no dispute Ms Hardcastle suffered from chronic fatigue syndrome.

But Comcare did not accept that the illness had been caused by her employment or that she contracted Coxsackie B virus at the conference.

Mrs Hardcastle initially claimed that she had contracted an infection from other conference-goers who had upper respiratory tract symptoms.

The tribunal heard that, days before a blood test looking for a number of possible viruses had been performed, Mrs Hardcastle had told her supervisor that she had Coxsackie B virus.

She later told the CSIRO that the virus had been spread via contaminated utensils and food, but then mentioned the potentially contaminated water after Comcare had rejected her claim.

Lawyers for the insurer argued that Mrs Hardcastle had modified her story after conducting her own personal research on the virus.

Medical experts agreed that the chances of catching Coxsackie B virus from a jug filled from the tap in a hand basin located in a toilet facility, were so low that they would both be comfortable drinking the water.

Mrs Hardcastle had been the only conference attendee to report symptoms, the tribunal also heard.

Medical experts agreed that the chances of catching Coxsackie B virus from a jug filled from the tap in a hand basin located in a toilet facility, were so low that they would both be comfortable drinking the water.

But the experts were split on when she had contracted the virus, one saying it had been likely at the conference, while another said she had probably contracted a virus prior to the conference.

The tribunal heard that Coxsackie B virus was just one of many possible viruses Mrs Hardcastle could have contracted, and that the conference only one of a number of possible sources of infection.

Expert evidence said Coxsackie B virus had not been proven to cause CFS.

Tribunal member Dr Marella Denovan, in a judgment published last week, said she could not find in Mrs Hardcastle's favour based on a vast range possibilities.

"I do not believe it is possible for Mrs Hardcastle, or anyone else, to illuminate all possible causes of an infection," Dr Denovan said.

"That Mrs Hardcastle cannot recall of any other possible source of infection, does not equate to no other possibility existing."

The member said she had been satisfied that Mrs Hardcastle suffered a viral infection with a clinical onset on or about March 2012.

But Dr Denovan was not satisfied that the virus was Coxsackie B, and that it had been caught at the conference, or at any other time during her employment.

"There are numerous possible viruses that could explain Mrs Hardcastle's symptoms, and there are numerous possibilities as to where and when such a virus was contracted.

"I find that Mrs Hardcastle's Commonwealth employment did not contribute, to a significant degree, to her suffering an ailment or any aggravation of such an ailment.

"Accordingly, I find that Comcare is not liable to pay the applicant compensation."