Householders should properly maintain private water supplies following possible disease threat from heavy rainfall - HPSC

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The HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre today (Wednesday) strongly advised householders to ensure that any private water wells are properly maintained following an increase in Verotoxigenic E. coli (VTEC) cases in November, which may be linked with recent heavy rainfall. 

Twenty six cases of VTEC have been reported in November, compared with between two and 10 cases for the same period in previous years, according to HPSC specialist in public health medicine, Dr Paul McKeown.

“So far in 2009, a total 216 cases have been reported and anyone who drinks water from private wells may need to consider boiling water or taking other appropriate measures after periods of heavy rainfall. 

“This is particularly important for vulnerable people such as children, the elderly or immunocompromised people. Well water can become polluted without any noticeable change in taste or smell. In the longer term, householders should disinfect their private wells regularly and protect them from contaminated surface water. 

“VTEC can cause severe bloody diarrhoea and abdominal cramps. Usually there is little or no fever, and patients recover within five to 10 days. However, some people, particularly children under five 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.

“Around 10% of Irish homes get their water from private wells. However, around 70% of our recent cases report drinking water from private wells. While not all of these cases are caused by water consumption it does raise concerns that the water serving these households may be contaminated.

“The recent 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 disinfecting and protecting private wells from your Local Authority and on microbiological testing of well water from the HSE Environmental Health Service,” he added.