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Education post: What is the Cryptosporidium bug causing illness in Brixham, Devon?

May 2024

Hundreds of residents and holidaymakers in Brixham, Devon, are believed to have been made ill by a bug often transferred via drinking water or swallowing water while swimming.

People have reported suffering diarrhoea and vomiting, with 22 cases known to have been caused by the parasite Cryptosporidium.

South West Water confirmed on May 15, 2024, that water samples containing small traces of the parasite had been located in two areas around the popular seaside resort of Brixham. Residents were urged to boil water before using it.

Cryptosporidium parvum is a waterborne bug not currently tested for by SAS Water. We specialise in Legionella and associated viral infections associated with stagnant workplace water.

But it is important to note that Britain has experienced an “unprecedented” increase in people infected with a parasite which causes diarrhoea, abdominal pain and fever, according to a recent study authored by representatives from the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA), Public Health Wales and Public Health Scotland study.

People should be aware of the symptoms, while noting that any generally well person should recover from the bug relatively quickly.

Data from routine checks of stool samples from people who have reported having the illness, show that around 450 people were confirmed to have the infection on just one day in late October 2023.

The paper published in the Eurosurveillance medical journal says health officials found 2,411 laboratory confirmed cases of cryptosporidiosis between 20 August and 1 October, last year – 2,032 cases in England, 163 in Wales, 127 in Scotland and 89 in Northern Ireland.

As yet, it is unclear what is causing the rise in cases, including the latest outbreak in Devon.

The UKHSA state: “Our initial findings would suggest that swimming (either in the UK or abroad), including the use of pools, and foreign travel to a variety of destinations may underlie the current increase.

“However, at this stage other sources, for example contaminated food, cannot be excluded as contributing to the exceedance.”

NHS advice states: Illness may start with loss of appetite, nausea. and abdominal pain. This is followed by watery diarrhoea, vomiting (particularly in children), and a mild fever.

In otherwise healthy people the illness lasts for about 2 weeks, but there’s a risk of more severe illness for anyone with a weakened immune system.

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