Anger in Devon as more cases of waterborne disease expected

<span>A bottled-water collection point in Paignton, north of Brixham.</span><span>Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA</span>
A bottled-water collection point in Paignton, north of Brixham.Photograph: Ben Birchall/PA

Health officials are expecting more cases of a waterborne disease in Devon, as an MP said “heads are going to roll” over the outbreak and that the anger among residents was “palpable”.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has confirmed 46 cases of cryptosporidium infection in the Brixham area, while more than 100 other people have reported symptoms, including diarrhoea, stomach pains and dehydration.

About 16,000 households and businesses in the Brixham area were told by South West Water (SWW) not to use their tap water for drinking without boiling and cooling it first. Bottled-water collection points have also been in operation.

On Saturday afternoon, SWW said about 14,500 households in the Alston supply area can now use their tap water safely, although 2,500 properties in Hillhead, upper parts of Brixham and Kingswear should continue to boil their supply before drinking it.

The decision was made in consultation with UKHSA and the local authority’s environmental health department.

SWW also said a water tank at Hillhead reservoir – where infected water had been detected – had been drained overnight.

The Conservative MP Anthony Mangnall, whose Totnes constituency includes Brixham, said it had been “an absolutely disastrous week”.

Speaking to LBC News, he said: “This is such a serious matter that, yes, I think heads are going to roll over this, but it’s more important to get the system back up and running, make sure people have confidence in the network rather than pointing fingers.

“We do the investigation afterwards and we will make sure that those who are responsible are held to account.

Related:What is cryptosporidiosis, and how can people avoid getting infected?

“From starting this week with a denial from South West Water that it was anything to do with them, delaying the fact that the boil water notice came in, meaning thousands of people used the water network, to then issuing it on Wednesday, and there are a lot of people who are very ill.

“So, it’s been an absolutely disastrous week and the anger is palpable.”

Dr Lincoln Sargeant, Torbay’s director of public health, said while the initial contamination of water in Brixham had been “more or less dealt with”, delays in symptoms developing might cause the number of cases to increase for “up to two weeks”.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Sargeant said: “It’s important for listeners to recognise that, in terms of the initial contamination, that, we think, is more or less dealt with, so with the boiled-water notice, with bottled water, we are pretty sure now that no one needs to continue to be affected by contaminated water and we know that South West Water is now actively doing work to flush through the system to make sure that ongoing contamination does not occur.

“However, it’s important to recognise that people may continue to develop symptoms from that initial contamination for up to 10 days, some people may even up to two weeks, so the numbers may increase, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that the situation is getting worse.”

Rita Bristow told PA Media that she knew of only four houses out of 21 in Raddicombe Close, on the outskirts of Brixham, that have not had at least one person fall ill with cryptosporidiosis.

She said: “I had awful stomach cramps and every time I ate or drank anything I felt very nauseous, and then two days of explosive diarrhoea – which is the polite way of putting it.

“There’s 21 houses in all and I’m aware of only four houses where nobody has been affected and 11 that definitely have been.”

A guesthouse manager said the outbreak had caused cancellations totalling “up to £1,000” and that he had heard “nothing direct at all” from SWW.

Steve Price, who runs the Station Guesthouse near Brixham, told BBC Radio 4: “We’ve had to instigate any contact; there has been notifications coming from Torbay council about numbers to contact, but it’s a shame for commercial businesses because we’ve had no one come round.”

Asked how much his business had lost, he said: “So far, probably anywhere from up to £1,000 in cancellations, which is fairly substantial.”