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Brixham, England, residents forced to boil water after contamination

By Ehren Wynder

May 18 (UPI) -- The U.K. Health Security Agency on Friday reported 46 cases of cryptosporidiosis, an illness that causes intense diarrhea, linked to a water crisis in Brixham, England.

Over 100 other people have reported symptoms of the illness after water utility South West Water on Wednesday issued a boil water notice to some 17,000 households and businesses in its service area.

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SWW said it was draining the Hillhead reservoir and investigating the greater Alston area of Brixham as a potential source of the outbreak.

By Friday, SWW issued an update that said customers in the Alston area no longer need to boil their water. Customers in the Hillhead area, however, are still under boil alert.

SWW said it identified a damaged valve on private land in Hillhead as the "possible cause of contamination."

"We are urgently investigating how this happened, while working to rule out any other possible sources of contamination elsewhere in the network," the utility said in a statement.

Dr. Bayad Nozad, consultant in health protection at UKHSA South West, in statement expressed relief for SWW's handling of the issue.

"We are pleased that South West Water have lifted the boil notice for a large number of residents, which reflects the confidence of the outbreak control team that a probable source of the contamination has been identified and mitigations are in place," the statement read.

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"We advise those still under the boil notice to follow the advice and boil their drinking water and allow to cool before use."

Brixham residents, however, have criticized SWW's handling of the crisis. Kayley Lewis told the BBC that she and her family had symptoms of cryptosporidiosis since May 5.

SWW on Tuesday said tap water was safe to drink before turning around and issuing a boil alert on Wednesday, which Lewis said was a "disgusting" response.

"They took samples from my neighbors and even said to them it'll be 24 hours until we get the results," she said. "But two hours later they mentioned on social media that it was fine to drink the water in Brixham when clearly it wasn't OK to drink."

Iam Lomas, whose whole family including their 3-year-old daughter were infected, told the BBC, "South West Water were far too slow in admitting responsibility and the communication has been poor."

SWW said it would pay affected customers each a total of £215 -- about $272 U.S. dollars -- in compensation. The utility also said it has set up bottled water stations and is conducting bottled water deliveries to residents.

Cryptosporidiosis is caused by a parasite called cryptosporidium, a single-cell organism that is found in the feces of infected animals and can spread through contaminated water.

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Symptoms include stomach pains, diarrhea and vomiting, which can last for up to two weeks.

Most healthy people will recover with rest and hydration, but the illness can be serious for people with weakened immune systems.

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