Faulty valve possible source of parasite outbreak

SWW handing out water to residents
The government announced the incident would be "investigated thoroughly" [BBC]

A parasite could have made its way into the water network, infecting hundreds of people, through a faulty valve, South West Water (SWW) has said.

Public Health said 22 cases of cryptosporidiosis had been confirmed in Brixham, Devon, and up to 100 people had reported symptoms to their GP in the last week.

The government announced the incident would be "investigated thoroughly" by the Drinking Water Inspectorate and UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA).

Infections from the parasite can be caused by drinking contaminated water or swallowing it in swimming pools or streams.

Laura Flowerdew, SWW's chief customer officer, said it had identified a “damaged valve on part of our network which could be the cause”.

She said: “We’re doing further work to make sure we’re absolutely confident that’s the cause and the only cause.

“We’re working through operational procedures in the meantime. We’re also doing further sampling to make sure we’re really confident in that cause."

She said "public health is our absolute priority at this point so we’ll make sure that is fixed".

'Slow to act'

A government spokeswoman said: "The prime minister understands the stress and worry this has caused residents.

"Any water company that's found to be in breach of rules on drinking water should expect to face the appropriate enforcement action up to and including criminal prosecution."

Anthony Mangnall, Conservative MP for Totnes and South Devon, said he was "very concerned" with SWW's response to the outbreak.

He said: "They have been slow to act and communication with customers has been very poor.

"This has certainly undermined trust in our water network and I will certainly keep working with colleagues at Defra to ensure SWW are held to account over this issue."

Residents in Alston and the Hillhead area of Brixham have been asked to continue boiling their water for at least another week to prevent potential infection.

SWW said investigations were continuing alongside testing of the water network and that it had distributed 129,000 two litre bottles of water.

NHS Torbay asked those with diarrhoea or vomiting symptoms to "stay at home".

"Anyone with diarrhoeal illness should drink plenty of water to prevent dehydration and if they have severe symptoms like bloody diarrhoea, or you are not getting better after seven days, please contact NHS 111 or your GP."

The UKHSA said it would update case numbers on Friday, with an aim to update case numbers a couple of times a week from next week.

Lisa Allen
Lisa Allen said she now knew why she had been unwell for nearly a fortnight [BBC]

South West Water said an original £15 in compensation for affected residents had risen by a further £100 as the company was “recognising the severity of this incident”.

“We appreciate compensation can never fully compensate for the anxiety and stress that some customers have been under but we are trying to recognise and act as quickly and effectively as possible,” it said.

Lisa Allen, a resident in Hillhead, said she had been feeling sick for more than 13 days.

She said: "The parasite has gone up into my chest now, I'm asthmatic so it's quite problematic.

"It just keeps coming and going and now I'm like this... I've had to have four days off work unpaid."

Ms Allen said residents in the area were angry.

"Both my children are off school sick with it, they're telling us to boil the water but after what we've been through with this sickness I don't want to touch the water at all."

Jane Boyle
Jane Boyle said residents felt completely let down by the water company [BBC]

Hillhead resident Jane Boyle said the response from SWW had been "pathetic".

She said: "There should have been notification much sooner than this and the fact that it's been denied is totally out of order.

"It's disgusting, we've just been completely let down... there's been people poorly for over a week, it's just not on."

Another resident Hannah queued at Broadsands car park - a location where SWW has been handing out bottled water.

"We haven't really understood what has been happening because we were told on the weekend it was fine and now we're told it's not fine so it's just not very clear," she said.

Jess Blake
Jess Blake has been unwell since returning from a short holiday in Brixham [BBC]

Jess Blake and her family from Portsmouth spent a short holiday in Brixham last week.

She said since returning home she had been bedbound due to symptoms caused by cryptosporidiosis.

She said: "I did think the water tasted a bit different but when you go to different counties obviously the water can taste different, I didn't think anything of it.

"When I got poorly on Tuesday I did just think it could be just a normal bug, but then when you put two and two together... this is the worst kind of bug that I've had."

Mark Bradley, chef manager of the Royal Dart Yacht Club in Kingswear, said since the outbreak it had suffered cancellations and unwell staff.

He said: “The impact for us as a business could be quite huge.

“I hope that we will get some compensation – it sounds silly but I’m already keeping invoices for all the bottled water I’m buying because it’s just additional costs that the business doesn’t need.”

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