Householders must properly maintain private water supplies following increase in contamination - HPSC

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The Health Protection Surveillance Centre today (Friday) strongly advised householders who use water from private wells to ensure that their wells are properly maintained following an increase in Verotoxigenic E.coli (VTEC) cases.

139 VTEC cases have been reported so far this year compared to around 70-90 cases for the same period in previous years, according to HPSC director, Dr Darina O'Flanagan.

"There is evidence that the increase in VTEC cases may be linked with record rainfall this summer and use of private well water. After periods of heavy rainfall well users may need to consider boiling water intended for consumption or taking other appropriate measures. This is particularly important if vulnerable people such as children, the elderly or immunocompromised persons are drinking the water, especially if the water colour changes or it smells or tastes differently.

"VTEC can cause severe bloody diarrhoea and abdominal cramps. Usually there is little or no fever, and patients recover within 5 to 10 days. However, some people, particularly children under 5 years of age and the elderly, are at risk of a complication called haemolytic uraemic syndrome (HUS), in which the red blood cells are destroyed and the kidneys fail. This happens in up to 10% of child cases. HUS is the principal cause of acute kidney failure in children, and the majority of cases of HUS are caused by E. coli O157:H7.

"Private wells supply water to around 10% of Irish homes and we know that at least 30% of all VTEC cases are associated with water supplied in this way. While not all cases in private well households will have been caused by water consumption we are aware of a number of cases where the water has been shown to be contaminated with E.coli O157 or other E.coli organisms.

"This summer's heavy rainfall has caused very high water table levels, excessive run off and flooding which increases the chances of drinking water being contaminated. Householders can get further advice on private wells from both the HSE Environmental Health Service and local authorities who provide regular local advice on the quality and safety of drinking water," she added.