Brixham outbreak: Cryptosporidium confirmed as illness sweeps town

Beautiful Brixham harbour
Brixham harbour -Credit:Tu xa Ha Noi

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has confirmed there has been an outbreak of infection cryptosporidium in Brixham, but it has not yet been able to establish the cause of it. So far it says there have been 16 confirmed cases of the illness, with more expected, and around 70 reported cases of diarrhoea and vomiting in residents in the seaside town.

Earlier today, DevonLive reported it was believed hundreds of people in Brixham had become unwell according to comments on social media. Residents have shared how they have been poorly for days and the detrimental impact it is having on their lives.

Cryptosporidiosis is predominantly a waterborne disease and infections can be caused by drinking contaminated water or swallowing contaminated water in swimming pools or streams. It can also be acquired by animal and human contact.

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South West Water (SWW) assured earlier today that the tests it has carried out on the quality of drinking water in Brixham have currently all come back clear. It has since stated it is advising residents to continue to use their water as normal and that it is continuing to review water supplies.

UKHSA says its investigation into the source is ongoing and those who have reported symptoms are being contacted for further information as part of investigations into a source. It has issued advice to help halt the spread of the infection.

Sarah Bird, consultant in health protection at UKHSA South West said: "We would like to reassure the public that we are working closely with partners to investigate the possible source of infection and put control measures in place. Further possible cases are under investigation and more cases are anticipated.

"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 medical advice.

"Symptoms include watery diarrhoea, stomach pains, dehydration, weight loss and fever, which can last for two to three weeks. Anyone can get cryptosporidiosis, but it is most common in young children aged between one and five years and most healthy people will recover fully.

"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."

The UK Health Security Agency South West is working with Torbay Council, South West Water, NHS Devon and the Environment Agency to investigate the cause.

A South West Water spokesperson said: "We are working with UKHSA and other partners supporting their investigation into a number of cases of cryptosporidium in the Brixham area. As part of this, we have reviewed the operation of our water treatment works and the water quality data from those sites which show us there have been no issues with the treated water.

"As agreed today with public health partners, we are carrying out further monitoring of the local supply area and we’ll continue working closely with them on their investigation. We are advising customers to continue to use their water as normal. We will keep this under review."

It is believed that many of the cases are affecting people who live in Higher Brixham. Tanya Matthews, who lives within that area in Ocean View, claims every home in her street has come down with the same symptoms.

Tanya, who has been suffering from stomach cramps and diarrhoea for the past nine days and is awaiting a cryptosporidium test, 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 [May 14] it hit me again.

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"I rang SWW yesterday [May 13] 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."

Yesterday, May 13, Tanya put a post on Brixham Fish Town 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.

A resident who lives in Hillhead, Brixham and asked not to be named, has 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."

Further health advice has been issued by Torbay Council. Dr Lincoln Sargeant, director of Public Health at Torbay Council said: "We are working with partners to investigate the source of this outbreak. We advise that people wash their hands thoroughly when handling food and after using the toilet to help prevent the spread of further infection.

"Please follow the advice to stay away from nursery, school and work for 48 hours since the last episode of illness and do not swim for two weeks after being unwell.”

Advice about cryptosporidium can be found by clicking here.