Emergency water supplies distributed to Devon residents as ‘hundreds’ ill with parasite and people urged to boil water

15 May 2024, 16:15

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Water mass-distributed in Devon

Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

Emergency water supplies have been distributed to Devon residents as at least 22 cases of a diarrhoea-type illness have been confirmed in the area.

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Hundreds of people in a picturesque south Devon town have fallen sick with a debilitating stomach bug, with a parasite found in the local water supply.

Many residents of the seaside town of Brixham have complained of diarrhoea, cramps, vomiting and nausea for days.

Health authorities believe they are suffering from cryptosporidiosis, caused by cryptosporidium, an intestinal parasite that can spread through contact with contaminated water.

It is unclear where the parasite came from, and how it got into the water supply.

A notice from South West Water urging residents to boil their tap water
A notice from South West Water urging residents to boil their tap water. Picture: South West Water

Only 16 cases have been confirmed so far, and 70 more are under investigation. But many more locals have said they are suffering from symptoms.

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Brixham. Picture: Alamy

South West Water (SWW), the local water supplier, said at first that tests for cryptosporidium had come back negative - and urged locals to carry on drinking tap water.

But on Wednesday they admitted that "small traces of the organism" had been found. A spokesperson urged people in the villages of Brixham, Boohay, Kingswear and Roseland, as well as north-east Paignton, to boil their water.

That applied to water for drinking, cooking and brushing teeth, he said. The company will also hand out bottled water to residents of the affected areas.

SWW said: "We apologise for the inconvenience caused and will continue to keep customers and businesses updated."

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Local Facebook pages are full of comments from residents who are suffering from cryptosporidiosis symptoms.

A video posted online appears to show several workmen carrying out tests.

Tanya Matthews, who lives locally, wrote on Tuesday: "Southwest water are saying its very unlikely the water! Then went on to ask if I had been in the sea or a river.....no I have not.

"I also think the water tastes funny, been leaving a horrid taste in my mouth, so they are coming to test my water tomorrow. But say they can not test for crypto out of the tap because they would need a huge volume of water."

Sarah Bird, consultant in health protection at UKHSA South West, said: "At this stage a source has not been identified, and more information will be shared as soon as it is available. For most people, cryptosporidium symptoms can be managed at home without needing medical advice."

Posted by Maureen Wilkes on Wednesday, May 15, 2024

She added: "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.

"Please stay off school and work for 48 hours since the last episode of illness and away from swimming pools for 14 days after the last episode of illness."