Concern at incidence of e-coli in private wells across North Tipp

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North Tipperary is among the areas with the highest levels of e-coli from private wells.

People are being urged to treat the water from their private wells to reduce the risk of serious illness and contamination.

Over the past decade, there have been 1,250 cases of VTEC e-coli in the Mid West, which includes North Tipp, Clare and Limerick. 278 of these were in North Tipperary.

The area recorded their highest number of cases in 2021, at 164.

Principal Health Officer with Environmental Health, Ray Parle, told Tipp Today what well owners can do to prevent getting sick from their water.

“It’s a case of people being more aware themselves that this has consequences for you and your family, or could have.

“One thing I would say as well, is if you have a well, and notice that the water changes in colour or taste, particularly after heavy rain, I can guarantee you, you have a problem and you need to get that checked.

“If it’s changing after heavy rain, it means that the contamination from the surface is getting down very quickly, if a well is properly constructed and lined, that shouldn’t be happening.”

In addition to causing severe stomach pains and diarrhoea, VTEC can cause a serious condition known as Haemolytic Uremic Syndrome (HUS), which results in the breakdown of red blood cells and kidney failure.

Between 5-10% of VTEC cases, particularly children under five and the elderly, will suffer from HUS, with some requiring dialysis.

Five percent of people who develop this serious condition may die.

Farm animals, especially cattle, carry VTEC in their bowels.

Infection can be acquired through contact with farm animals or their environment, from eating unwashed or undercooked contaminated food, from drinking water from contaminated wells, and from contact with people infected with VTEC such as in household or childcare settings where there is nappy changing or shared toilet facilities.

Dr Rose Fitzgerald, Specialist in Public Health Medicine at Public Health Mid-West, said:

“If your private well water is not treated, the water you are drinking could be contaminated and cause illness. A household outbreak of VTEC or Cryptosporidium linked to a water supply can spread to outside settings, such as childcare settings and friends and family. This can be prevented by ensuring adequate treatment of private well water.

“A VTEC infection can be severe in young children and elderly, but it is also disruptive to everyday lives. While it can last in the system for as short as a week, it can sometimes take several months to clear the infection. Infected persons and their close contacts need clearance from a Public Health doctor before being able to return to healthcare, childcare, or work that involves handling food.”