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Open water swimmers urged to take safety measures after leptospirosis cases confirmed

Freshwater swimmers have been urged to take safety measures during open water events to reduce the risk of illnesses such as leptospirosis.

This comes after Public Health England (PHE) were made aware of two confirmed and one possible  case of leptospirosis from 167 participants of the weekend of triathlon events which took place in the New Forest, Hampshire at the Avon Tyrell Outdoor Activity Centre between 30th May and 2nd June.

Furthermore, two likely but unconfirmed cases of leptisporosis have been observed in non-UK residents who took part in the event organised by Enduroman.

The infection can be caught through contaminated open water and the time between exposure to the leptospira bacteria and the onset of the symptoms can be from 7 to 21 days, therefore additional cases caused by this triathlon event are unlikely.

Consultant Epidemiologist at PHE, Dr Hilary Kirkbridge warned the triathletes of the symptoms of this illness.

She said: ““Early signs of leptospirosis include flu-like symptoms, vomiting, high temperature, headaches and muscle pains. The infection can be treated with antibiotics and most people will make a full recovery. In some cases leptospirosis can be a serious illness and patients may require admission to hospital for treatment.”

All participants of the event shared the same lake and have been informed of the recent leptospirosis cases by email.

Event organiser for the triathlon event at Enduroman, Edgar Ette said: “This is a very unfortunate incident and we have made sure all participants were informed of the recent illnesses by email. We are working closely with PHE and will continue to provide updates.”

With open water swimming participation on the rise, outbreaks of a number of infections have been observed including:

- Gastrointestinal (diarrhoea and/or vomiting)

- Respiratory

- Skin

- Eye

- Ear

Although these illnesses are generally mild and usually caused by organisms such as norovirus, giardia and cryptosporidium, more severe infections are possible.

For example, E.coli O157 can cause gastrointestinal illness and leptospirosis, which may result in kidney and liver problems.

Despite this, Dr Kirkbridge did not discourage people from taking part in these events, but urged them to take measures.

She said: “There is no reason why people should not participate in freshwater activities such as swimming, sailing, water skiing or windsurfing, but we advise people to take simple precautions to reduce their risk of infection before engaging in these leisure pursuits. Practical measures swimmers can take include minimising the swallowing of water, showering soon after swimming and washing hands before eating.”