'Hundreds' fall ill in Brixham as investigation launched

Brixham Harbour
Brixham Harbour -Credit:DevonLive

A suspected outbreak of cryptosporidium, which is believed to be affecting hundreds of people in Brixham according to comments on social media, is currently being investigated. Symptoms include profuse watery diarrhoea, stomach pains, nausea or vomiting, low-grade fever and loss of appetite, and usually last between one to two weeks.

The UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), which is leading the investigation, is yet to confirm any details about the alleged outbreak. South West Water (SWW) has confirmed the tests it has carried out on the quality of drinking water in Brixham have currently all come back clear.

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

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A South West Water spokesperson said: “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.”

It has not yet been confirmed how many cases of cryptosporidium have been recorded. However, community Facebook page Brixham Fish Town has been inundated with posts and comments from residents saying they have come down with symptoms. Reports of people becoming poorly in Paignton have also started to emerge on Facebook.

Many Brixham residents have told DevonLive how they have been poorly for days and have spoken of the detrimental impact it is having on their lives. 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. SWW carried out a water quality test at her home this morning, May 14, and she has been told the results will be available tomorrow.

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.

"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.

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. I know some people have been to GP's and been told they have food poisoning which most likely is not the case so have not been asked for a sample to have it tested.

"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 GCSE's and I'm worried about what happens if he gets poorly too."

Kayley Lewis, who also lives in Ocean Drive, has told how all their family is suffering from symptoms associated with cryptosporidium.

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.

"My other son Oscar is doing his SATS exams this week but I am having to drop him off just to sit his exam and then pick him up due to him still having diarrhoea and cramps. 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."

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.

"I originally thought it was noravirus 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 gunning 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."

Totnes MP Anthony Mangnall, whose constituency also includes Brixham, has told DevonLive that he has been made aware that a number of Brixham residents have fallen ill in recent weeks and is making enquiries.

On his official Facebook page today he posted: "I have been made aware of current concerns regarding the quality of drinking water in Brixham and have been making enquiries. South West Water have reassured me that they are supporting the UK Health Security Agency with their investigations, and have stated that constituents can continue to use their water supply as normal.

"SWW carefully monitors drinking water supplies, and cryptosporidium is monitored continuously in the final drinking water from the supplying treatment facility. To confirm, all recent test results for cryptosporidium have come back clear. I will provide further updates when possible."

The UK Health Security Agency has been approached for a comment.

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