To make matters worse, an apparent loophole in pollution legislation allows famers to pollute rivers without punishment by spreading excess manure that leaches into rivers via rainfall.
It is well known that animal faeces contain bacteria that are potentially harmful to people. I have represented several children in their claims for damages for negligent exposure to the E.Coli O157 bacteria, which can cause serious illness in the young and vulnerable. Spreading manure effectively increases the risk of exposing people to the risk of E.Coli via rivers and coastal waters, where children play and families swim.
The consequences of infection with E.Coli can be much longer lasting than the initial painful and unpleasant symptoms of abdominal pain and diarrhoea. The O157 strain of the bacteria can cause debilitating ongoing problems with abdominal pain, bowel control, kidney function and bladder control. The incubation period for E. coli O157 is usually three to four days but has been recorded as anywhere between one and 14 days.
HUS (haemolytic uraemic syndrome) is the most significant complication of infection with E.Coli O157 and can occur when the infection causes the kidneys to fail. HUS can lead to very serious complications including high blood pressure, heart failure, diabetes, seizures, neurological damages, coma, and, in severe cases, brain damage. The trauma of the severity of the illness and the invasive hospital treatment required, including dialysis, can have its own psychological and behavioural consequences, such as anxiety or phobia of medical treatment. It can be particularly distressing for children who become infected and have to deal with any, or a combination, of these ongoing symptoms.
E. coli O157 infection is highly infectious and ingesting ten to 100 bacteria can cause human illness. The infection can spread easily within households and in other settings such as day nurseries, primary schools, nursing homes and hospitals. E. coli O157 bacteria can survive for a long time in the environment.
Several of the children involved in claims for damages for negligent exposure to the E.Coli O157 bacteria subsequently developed HUS. An additional concern for the families involved is the uncertainty of the impact of the infection on their children as they grow up. At the very least, they face regular and ongoing hospital tests and live under the stress of potential long-term health problems.
Hopefully, pressure will mount on the Government and the water companies to take swift action to deal with the leaks and spillages of sewage and manure run-off into waterways and onto beaches.
Meanwhile, the Surfers Against Sewage website allows people to track real time sewage discharge and pollution risks around the UK. The map shows beaches with pollution risk warnings in place that swimmers would do well to avoid.
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