Cat avoided parasite in tap water by drinking rainwater but many fell ill

NEWS AND COMMENT: This is a big story in the UK and it concerns the quality of drinking water. The back story to this, by the way, is that in the UK there is a crisis among the water companies particularly Thames Water which have been discharging sewage into water courses, lakes and rivers et cetera. And in huge amounts. It’s a genuine crisis and Thames Water is effectively bankrupt being valueless according to the investors due to Β£18bn debt! 😒 Irresponsible borrowing over years to pay shareholders billions. Horrible behavior. The Times has been running a very useful campaign to highlight the deficiences of British water company.

Cryptosporidium parasite contaminated tap water in Devon
Cryptosporidium parasite contaminated tap water in Devon. Fictional image free to use by others under CC license.
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Okay, that’s the back story so what’s this story about? It’s about one of these water companies, South West Water, and once again the behaviour of this company is indicative of the general behaviour of water companies in the UK: obfuscation, opaqueness, and denial initially.

They’ve been supplying tapwater to their customers contaminated with a parasite called Cryptosporidium, which causes an illness called cryptosporidiosis. It affects animals and people and there are some details about it below this section.

It is a nasty parasite which can make people and animals very ill which is what happened to a lady living in Devon, Tanya Matthews, who has two cats. And she used her detective skills, thanks to her cats, to isolate this parasitic contamination.

In an interview with The Sunday Times she said that she was talking to her fellow parents at the school gates and discovered that a number of them were suffering from stomach bugs and diarrhoea. At the time her symptoms were just developing. She thought that a bug was going around the school.

But then, thanks to the habits of her cats, she decided there was something wrong with the tapwater. She said that she has two cats, one of them, Sage, who only drinks rainwater while her other cat, Nala, drinks tap water.

Nala became ill. She was struck down with vomiting and diarrhoea. Typical symptoms for cryptosporidiosis. Sage did not become ill. She thought it was a bit strange. She started to play the detective and noticed that the water coming out of her tap tasted disgusting.

She discovered that her neighbour’s three children had been taken ill over the weekend and admitted to hospital with severe dehydration due to severe diarrhoea.

She posted her story on the Brixham Facebook page to try and get some feedback and overnight there were 1,200 comments on her post. It was a Eureka moment when the dots had been joined up and she realised that the tap water was contaminated. She subsequently forced the water company to take responsibility.

It also transpired that veterinarians in her area were busy with dealing with sick cats with symptoms of diarrhoea and vomiting.

It took a while for South West Water to admit there was a problem. That their water wasn’t safe to drink. It affected 16,000 households in the area. At the time of writing this, I don’t have a clear reason why the contamination took place. I think the investigation is ongoing.

Cryptosporidium

Cryptosporidium is a parasite that causes an illness called cryptosporidiosis. It affects both humans and some animals, particularly farm animals. Here are some key points about cryptosporidium:

Transmission and Contamination:

Cryptosporidium can be found in the intestines and feces of infected humans and animals. It may contaminate various sources, including:

  • Lakes, streams, and rivers
  • Swimming pools
  • Untreated or poorly treated water
  • Raw milk and fresh produce
  • Objects like farm gates and outdoor boots and clothing.

Risk Factors:

Anyone can get cryptosporidiosis, but it’s most common in children aged 1 to 5 years. Other at-risk groups include:

  • People who handle infected livestock or their feces
  • Those exposed to human feces (e.g., changing diapers, toileting young children)
  • Individuals who drink untreated or contaminated water
  • Travelers to countries with likely exposures.
  • It can be severe in people with weakened immune systems.

Symptoms:

  • Profuse watery diarrhea
  • Stomach pains
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Low-grade fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Dehydration and weight loss
  • Symptoms usually last about 2 weeks but can be longer in immunocompromised individuals.

Transmission Routes:

  • Direct contact with infected feces (e.g., changing diapers, handling livestock)
  • Swimming in or drinking contaminated water
  • Occasionally through contaminated food (e.g., unwashed vegetables, raw milk).

Diagnosis:

  • A doctor can test a fecal sample in a laboratory to confirm cryptosporidium infection.

Prevention:

  • Wash hands thoroughly.
  • Avoid swallowing water from pools.
  • Drink treated water only.
  • Be cautious with food hygiene.

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