Deadly E-coli strain is now widespread in private wells
Almost one in every three private wells is contaminated with a potentially fatal form of E-coli, the HSE and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have warned.
Some 50,000 wells need to be immediately disinfected by those who use them as a water supply in order to avoid contracting Verotoxigenic E-coli (VTEC). A particularly nasty form of E-coli, it can cause bloody diarrhoea, severe abdominal pain and can even be fatal in extreme cases.
The HSE says there has been a growing number of cases of VTEC and those receiving treatment for the sickness are four times more likely to have consumed untreated water from a private well.
Ireland has the highest incidence of VTEC throughout Europe and there are over 170,000 private wells in operation here.
Since 2011, the HSE has reported a doubling of the number of VTEC cases – up from 284 that year to 704 in 2013.
It is most common in children. Animals, particularly cattle, are the main source of VTEC and infection is spread from animal contact or through contaminated food and water.
Person to person spread is also common.
Households which depend on private wells are now encouraged to disinfect wells, which kills all E-Coli, including the VTEC strain.
The EPA's David Flynn said well owners should check their wells frequently to ensure that their health is not at risk.
"This includes checking that there aren't any sources of pollution entering their well and testing their water, at least once a year, ideally following heavy rain when the well is most at risk of contamination," he said.
The agency has provided information on how to clean wells on its website including a short animation to explain the risks to well water quality.
Fianna Fail environment spokesperson Barry Cowen said: "I would hope this very serious health risk is taken on board by the Department of Health. The EPA has made a number of recommendations and the department now needs to join forces with the EPA in an information campaign."