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Mystery beach sickness 'no concern to public health'

PUBLISHED: 12:28 03 September 2019 | UPDATED: 16:32 03 September 2019

A couple of officials in a dinghy warn people to get out of the water at the sea in Frinton, Essex  Picture: MARK WRAY/PA WIRE

A couple of officials in a dinghy warn people to get out of the water at the sea in Frinton, Essex Picture: MARK WRAY/PA WIRE

Water tests carried out after up to 150 people reported feeling ill on Essex beaches have shown "no indication for concern to public health".

Emergency services were called to the beach in Frinton after beachgoers reported coughing and gasping for breath Picture: PETER BASHEmergency services were called to the beach in Frinton after beachgoers reported coughing and gasping for breath Picture: PETER BASH

Experts are currently analysing the results of water samples to establish whether any firm conclusions can be drawn from them.

Last week, a spokesman for Tendring District Council - which launched an investigation after beach-goers were struck down by a mystery illness over the August bank holiday weekend - said the cause of the sickness may never be known.

Today, bosses provided an update on the situation and said: "Initial water testing results have shown no indication for concern to public health.

"Experts are currently analysing the results of water samples to establish whether firm conclusions can be drawn.

"Since the initial incident there have been no further reported illnesses.

"Incidents such as these are not unheard of around the country's coastline, and often with the tides pass quickly, we took safety precautions until we were satisfied there was no further risk to the public."

'Coughing fits and breathing difficulties'

Tourism bosses had urged visitors to avoid the water at Frinton, Clacton and Walton following several reports of people coughing and struggling to breathe on Sunday, August 25.

Emergency crews, including police and paramedics from the ambulance service, rushed to the seafront that afternoon.

More than a dozen people were taken to Colchester General Hospital as a precaution.

Speculated causes for the sudden and unexplained sickness have included algae, a fuel spillage, and a spike in pollution or ozone levels.

No further reports of breathing difficulty or irritation to eyes have been reported since the mystery illness swept the beaches.

'They had a crackly feeling in their chests'

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Louise Harvey visited Frinton beach from Needham Market with husband Nick, 11-year-old daughter Poppy and 13-year-old son Harrison on the Sunday afternoon.

Within about 40 minutes of going for a swim, both children began coughing and wheezing.

Mrs Harvey, who had been paddling with her husband, soon felt a burning sensation in her nose.

After picking up fresh water nearby, the family returned to meet paramedics and allow the children to be checked over.

"After a couple of hours, the children's coughs had almost gone," said Mrs Harvey.

"But the crackly feeling in their chests was still there - and we all still had sore throats and noses."

'Fumes and a haze'

Mrs Harvey said the water was clear, but, in hindsight, recalled smelling fumes and seeing a haze in the air.

She praised the speed and professionalism of lifeguards, response teams and emergency services.

The sudden outbreak of illness came almost exactly two years after beaches in East Sussex were evacuated following a suspected chemical leak.

More than 200 people were treated at Eastbourne General Hospital for the effects of a chemical haze - most likely caused by a ship, a wreck or lost cargo in the Channel.

What should I do if I start to feel unwell?

Should anyone enter the water and experience symptoms such as irritation to eyes or minor difficulty in breathing, they should rinse or wash and change their clothes, and drink fresh water.

If they continue to be concerned or unsure dial 111, the non-emergency health number for advice.

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