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‘It’s the worst illness I’ve ever had’: Hundreds are struck down with parasite as bosses warn customers not to drink, cook or clean teeth with unboiled tap water – after firm first insisted water was safe


Victims of a microscopic parasite plaguing water supplies in south-west England say they are suffering the ‘worst illness’ they have ever had.

South West Water (SWW) has urged people to boil their tap water after hundreds were struck down with diarrhoea, vomiting and stomach pains linked to cryptosporidium, a parasitic bug that causes severe stomach issues.

Residents across Brixham, Boohay, Kingswear, Roseland and north-east Paignton in Devon are all being told to boil water as a precaution, including when drinking it or using it to cook with and brush teeth.

The water board initially claimed that its treatment works were not to blame but has since backtracked – prompting fury from local Tory MP Anthony Mangnall, who said its initial failure to act had been ‘enormously frustrating’.

Locals who believe they have been struck down by the parasite, which can be eradicated by boiling water, have told of severe stomach cramps, dehydration, high fevers and ‘explosive diarrhoea’ that have crippled them and their families.

Have you fallen ill with cryptosporidium? Email jon.brady@mailonline.co.uk

South West Water has set up bottled water stops for residents to pick up water if they are unable to boil it at home

South West Water has set up bottled water stops for residents to pick up water if they are unable to boil it at home

South West Water unloading crates of bottled water to distribute to locals in south Devon

South West Water unloading crates of bottled water to distribute to locals in south Devon

A suspected outbreak of cryptosporidium is believed to be affecting hundreds of people in Brixham (pictured)

Cryptosporidium can be found in the intestines and faeces of infected humans and animals

Cryptosporidium can be found in the intestines and faeces of infected humans and animals

Cryptosporidium can be found in the intestines and faeces of infected humans and animals. The parasite can be ingested by swimming in or drinking contaminated water as well as other sources such as contaminated food. 

It can lead to the disease cryptosporidiosis, which is believed to be affecting many people in Brixham, and causes fever, a loss of appetite, diarrhoea and vomiting. The NHS says most people recover within a month, if not less.

Twenty-two cases of the bug, which is caused by a parasite, have been confirmed in Brixham with a further 70 under investigation. 

Conservative MP for Totnes and South Devon Anthony Mangnall has slammed the 'enormously frustrating' pace at which South West Water has sought to address the outbreak

Conservative MP for Totnes and South Devon Anthony Mangnall has slammed the ‘enormously frustrating’ pace at which South West Water has sought to address the outbreak

Tanya Matthews, who lives in Higher Brixham, claimed every home on her street has come down with the same symptoms. She is awaiting the results of a cryptosporidium test.

Ms Matthews said: ‘I started having stomach cramps and explosive diarrhoea nine days ago and it has been the same every day since. I started to feel a little bit better yesterday then today it hit me again.

‘I rang SWW yesterday and I was told there had been 15 confirmed cases of cryptosporidium and that UKHSA are looking into it as they don’t believe it’s to do with the water.

‘They wouldn’t expect this many cases over a whole year for all of Devon and Cornwall so something is amiss. 

‘SWW asked if I had been in the sea or a river but I have not. I also think the water tastes funny and it has been leaving a horrid taste in my mouth.’

Tanya put a post on Brixham Fish Town, a community group on Facebook, to see how many other people had also been affected. It is had more than 1,000 comments with many reporting they are also unwell.

Tanya said: ‘I posted about it to see how many other people may have had these symptoms without realising and thinking it’s just a tummy bug.

‘When SWW came out today they told me they don’t think it’s the water. I don’t know how that’s possible when every house in our street has someone who is ill. So many people are sick in the area.

‘My husband has it too. My son is doing his GCSEs and I’m worried about what happens if he gets poorly too.’

A Ms Henderson, of Brixham, told MailOnline she has been suffering from ‘clear diarrhoea’ for the past week.

She said: ‘Last week I had such bad diarrhoea it was crazy. My diarrhoea was completely clear – it was just clear water.

‘When you have diarrhoea you get dehydration. So I was drinking more water to stay hydrated, so I was obviously feeding the illness more.’ 

Brixham local Kayley Lewis’s family is suffering from symptoms of cryptosporidiosis.

She said: ‘My eldest son Jacob was the first one of us to be poorly. He ended up in hospital overnight with severe dehydration on May 5. I then started to feel unwell on May 6 and had awful stomach pains and watery diarrhoea lasting six days.

‘Both my boys have missed a lot of school due to it too. My youngest daughter Daisy has only had stomach cramps. I took in my sample this morning to the doctors and they have said every sample is now going to a team that is investigating.’

Locals in areas of south Devon have been advised to boil their tap water before drinking it in order to kill off cryptosporidium parasites

Locals in areas of south Devon have been advised to boil their tap water before drinking it in order to kill off cryptosporidium parasites

Locals queueing in a car park in South Devon to pick up bottled water during the outbreak of cryptosporidium

Locals queueing in a car park in South Devon to pick up bottled water during the outbreak of cryptosporidium

A resident who lives in Hillhead, Brixham, told how she has been bed-bound for over a week and has tested positive for cryptosporidium by her doctor.

She said: ‘I’ve been bed-bound for eight days with sickness and diarrhoea and have been signed off work for two weeks and lost over a stone in weight. It’s the worst illness I’ve ever experienced.

‘I originally thought it was norovirus but as it went on for so long, I had to contact the doctors. I sent off a stool sample which came back as cryptosporidium which I had never heard off until I saw the post on Brixham Fish Town.

‘I phoned SWW who said it was the first they had heard of it even though everyone has been phoning. Public health have told me I’ll be getting a phone call from environmental health but we are still waiting.

‘It seems the majority of people affected are from Hillhead and Higher Brixham.’

Dean James, who lives Northfields Lane in in Furzeham, says his family have been ill since last Saturday, May 11, and it is now impacting on their livelihoods.

He said: ‘It has not been a nice experience. We have had diarrhoea and vomiting, severe stomach cramps, high temperature and running a fever. 

‘My partner and I are both off work and have no sick pay; my partner has no sick pay for the first three days and I’m self-employed. All this when we are experiencing a high cost of living.

‘Some of my neighbours have become suddenly unwell. We have been told to ring public health and report cases and also to boil all water for drinking. 

‘Looking at Facebook, cases are now appearing all over Brixham and starting to appear in Paignton too.’

A Brixham resident, who asked to remain anonymous, said: ‘My whole family – myself, my partner and my two children – have been affected. 

‘We have had diarrhoea, stomach cramps and vomiting for more than 10 days, as have many people on our street including several diagnosed cases of cryptosporidium.

‘It seems to be mainly affecting people in households in Higher Brixham. Whenever you phone SWW, they make out they’ve only had a ‘couple’ of reports about it which I know is false. 

‘I spoke to our GP at Mayfield Surgery who confirms they have had many cases and have reported it to the relevant authorities as it is so prevalent.’

South West Water (SWW) previously insisted the tests it has carried out on the quality of drinking water in Brixham have currently all come back clear.

A social media post issued earlier read: ‘We are aware of posts on social media regarding the quality of drinking water in the Brixham area and we would like to reassure customers that the water supply is fine to continue to use as normal. 

‘We have carried out sampling and tests for cryptosporidium and all results have come back clear.

‘We always carefully monitor our drinking water supplies and we are supporting the UK Health Security Agency with their investigations.’

South West Water shared this map of the areas affected in South Devon on its website

South West Water shared this map of the areas affected in South Devon on its website

Community Facebook page Brixham Fish Town has been inundated with posts and comments from residents saying they have come down with symptoms (Pictured: Brixham)

But it later admitted that ‘small traces of the organism’ cryptosporidium had been found in its water supply. It has now set up bottled water stops and will be delivering bottled water to vulnerable residents registered for priority attention.

Conservative MP for Totnes and South Devon Anthony Mangnall has criticised the pace at which SWW responded to the outbreak.

He told BBC News: ‘It is enormously frustrating that South West Water weren’t quicker to respond at the first point at when this was reported.

‘It started with an initial denial that it was anything to do with their network and of course they have now found the cryptosporidium is in their network and they are responding.

‘Residents were quick to actually point out there was something wrong with the water, they could taste it, and now they are suffering.’

Mr Mangnall added: ‘What I want to see is for them to address the problem, fix it as quickly as possible and make sure the support for residents is there both now and into the future so they can have confidence in their drinking water.’

A South West Water spokesperson said ‘protective action’ should be taken for all water use.

A statement from the supplier said: ‘Customers in Alston and the Hillhead area of Brixham are advised to boil their drinking water before consuming following new test results for cryptosporidium. 

‘We are issuing this as a precaution following small traces of the organism identified overnight and this morning. We are working with public health partners to urgently investigate the source.

‘We apologise for the inconvenience caused and will continue to keep customers and businesses updated. Bottled water stations will be set up in the affected areas as soon as possible.

‘For those customers registered for Priority Services we will be delivering bottled water to your address. For all customers who have been issued with the Boil Water Notice you will receive an automatic payment of £15, as part of our Customer Promise when services are interrupted.’

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), which is leading the investigation, is yet to confirm any details about the alleged outbreak.

Sarah Bird, consultant in health protection at UKHSA South West said: ‘We advise people in the affected areas to follow the advice from South West Water and boil their drinking water and allow to cool before use.

‘Anyone with a diarrhoeal illness should drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration and if they have severe symptoms like bloody diarrhoea, they should contact NHS 111 or their GP surgery.

‘Symptoms include watery diarrhoea, stomach pains, dehydration, weight loss and fever, which can last for two to three weeks.’

What is cryptosporidium?

Cryptosporidium, which can cause vomiting, stomach pains and a fever, can survive in swimming pools for up to a week.

The chlorine-resistant parasite is spread by contaminated faecal matter entering the mouth, such as while swimming.

Traces of dried poo can wash off an infected person’s anus.

Infected people can shed up to 100million cryptosporidium germs in a single bowel movement, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). 

Swallowing just ten is enough to get ill.



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