Cryptosporidium monitoring to be stepped up in Scotland

All water supplies in Scotland will be tested more regularly for Cryptosporidium following the introduction of new Directions.

Jan. 8, 2004 -- All water supplies in Scotland will be tested more regularly for Cryptosporidium following the introduction of new Directions.

Revised Cryptosporidium Directions to Scottish Water require every water treatment works in Scotland to be tested for the organism at least once a month from June 2004.

The additional monitoring will cost £2.8 million annually and provide information on both existing background levels of Cryptosporidium in raw water sources and the effectiveness of treatment.

Results will be reported to NHS Boards, local authorities and to the Drinking Water Quality Regulator. The additional information will help to track background levels of the parasite over time and enhance public health risk assessment.

More frequent and widespread testing will also give an indication of the effectiveness of existing filtration equipment and help identify plants for improvement.

Environment Minister Ross Finnie said:

"The quality of drinking water is an established priority and since 2002 much has been done to reduce the risk of cryptosporidium entering public water supplies.

"The revision of this Direction is one of the action points required by the Ad Hoc Group of Ministers which was established following incidents in Glasgow and Edinburgh.

"The availability of far more data on Cryptosporidium will not alter current low levels of risk. Increased monitoring will however provide invaluable information and early warning on those locations where the prevalence of this organism is highest.

"Approximately half of the record £1.8 billion being invested in Scotland's water infrastructure is aimed at improving drinking water treatment. This investment, combined with improved information, will ensure that we continue to reduce risk as new modernised plants are commissioned and built where they are required.

"The risk assessment process undertaken by Scottish Water has also been modified to take account of the densities of farm animal populations around water catchments and to take better account of the specific situations concerning ground water supplies. These processes will improve our understanding of the relationship between livestock density and risk to water quality and public health."

Dr. Colin Ramsay of the Scottish Centre for Infection and Environmental Health said:

"Increasing the amount of water testing will hopefully help to clarify the relationship between finding the Cryptosporidium organism in water and the risk of becoming ill. As a public health priority, NHS Boards and SCIEH will continue to carry out active surveillance of illness as part of this process.

"The number of cases of cryptosporidiosis in Scotland varies from year to year. There is some evidence that the number of sporadic cases is gradually dropping. Contaminated drinking water has been identified as a source but usually only when a definite outbreak is identified. Increased monitoring of the water will strengthen the safeguards already in place to help protect the public."

Following the Cryptosporidium incidents in August 2002 the Ad-Hoc Group of Ministers identified that the 2002 Directions required revision. Scottish Water has been consulted on the proposed revisions as required by section 56(4) of the Water industry (Scotland) Act 2002 and has tested the risk assessment process. The Scottish Centre for Infection and Environmental Health (SCIEH) has also been consulted.

Scottish Water will make provision for Cryptosporidium sampling at all its water treatment works between January and June 2004. The new Directions require Scottish Water to carry out more widespread monitoring for Cryptosporidium. From June 2004 every supply will be tested at least once per month with the frequency of testing being based on the assessed risk.

Scottish Water has estimated that the increased monitoring will cost £2.8 million per annum. Allowance for this expenditure has been made in the company's current spending plans.

The Drinking Water Quality Regulator has written to Directors of Public Health and Consultants in Public Health Medicine detailing the revisions to the Cryptosporidium Directions.

Ingesting Cryptosporidium oocysts (the egg like form of the organism) can lead to infection of the gut (Cryptosporidiosis). This results in illness with symptoms including abdominal cramps and diarrhoea which can be relatively prolonged. There is no effective treatment for the illness at present. The illness usually resolves without long term effects but may be more severe and more prolonged in people with seriously weakened immune systems. Such people are advised to boil all their drinking water as a matter of routine, irrespective of the source.

The revised Directions can be found at:

http://www.scotland.gov.uk/library5/health/crypto03.pdf

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