Devon: Confirmed cases of disease more than double to 46 after parasite found in drinking water

The confirmed cases of a waterborne disease caused by a parasite have more than doubled.

There are now 46 confirmed cases of cryptosporidiosis, a diarrhoeal illness, the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) has said - with more than 100 further people reporting similar symptoms in the Brixham area.

Other reported cases of diarrhoea and vomiting in residents and visitors to the south Devon town are also under investigation. Hundreds of locals have also reported feeling unwell over the last two weeks on social media.

MPs and South West Water officials have confirmed the parasite most likely entered water supplies through animal faeces, but an investigation is still ongoing.

What is cryptosporidiosis disease?

The UKHSA first confirmed cases of the disease at around midday on Wednesday, while locals were initially told by South West Water that their tap water was uncontaminated and safe to drink.

But after testing supplies in the Hillhead reservoir, the water company found "small traces" of the parasite cryptosporidium - which causes cryptosporidiosis - and told residents in parts of Brixham and Alston to boil their drinking water on Wednesday.

A total of 16,000 households and businesses in Brixham, Boohay, Kingswear, Roseland and North West Paignton were impacted and offered £15 compensation at first.

Over the next two days, South West Water apologised to those affected and increased the offer to £115. Amid the chaos, one primary school closed its doors on Thursday due to not having safe running drinking water.

'Very hard questions for water company'

Speaking to Sky News yesterday, South West Water's chief customer officer Laura Flowerdew confirmed it was likely a broken air valve contaminated by animal faeces that had caused the outbreak.

However, she refused to give a timeframe on how long the incident would be ongoing - leaving thousands of residents facing an uncertain future.

Speaking on Friday at the University of Exeter, Health Secretary Victoria Atkins said there will be "very, very hard questions" for South West Water over the outbreak.

"At the moment I think we probably need to give them the space to conduct their investigation; we know that they have identified the source," she said.

"The public will want to know how on earth that source happened, what was the chain of events that led to this, because of course we all understand the expectation that we all have when we turn our taps on is that [we get] clean drinking water and we want to be able to trust it."

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'Expect to see more cases'

Totnes MP Anthony Mangnall also warned the boil notice could last "at least a further six or seven days" and called for more transparency.

Professor Paul Hunter, a specialist in medical microbiology at the University of East Anglia, told Sky News if the parasite was "a continuous thing" present in water supplies for a prolonged period, then "you'd expect to see more cases" for another two weeks.

It comes as hotel owners in the area told Sky News the outbreak has led to people cancelling their stay, while a head chef said "I can't wash salad in the sink".

'Destroyed our business'

Stephen Colemansfield, owner of Redlands Guest House in Brixham, told Sky News the outbreak has "destroyed our business at the moment".

"Our guests have cancelled because of the mixed messages that are being sent out by South West Water."

Rob, head chef at the Steam Packet Inn in Kingswear near Dartmouth, also said his brother-in-law is one of the 46 confirmed cases of cryptosporidiosis and has been sick for two weeks.

The UKHSA is working with Torbay Council, South West Water, NHS Devon and the Environment Agency on the incident.