A man who contracted e-coli as a result of contaminants in Gorey’s water supply has been told he will not be able to return to work until the bacteria leaves his system.
Both Jason Preston (38) and his son Oscar (7) from Gorey fell ill last month having ingested tap water which came from the Creagh Treatment Plant. An electrical storm caused a power outage at the plant leading to contaminated water entering the system between August 19 and 23. Although Jason has since recovered from his illness, he has been told he cannot go back to work until he receives two negative e-coli tests from the HSE.
As a social care worker at Sunbeam House in Co Wicklow, Jason comes into contact with vulnerable and at-risk patients on a daily basis, and, because of the contagious nature of the e-coli strain (VTEC) he has been diagnosed with, he has been told to stay at home.
“The HSE has said it can take months to leave your system,” says Jason. “I got my last test results on Wednesday (September 22) and it’s still there. It can last months. It’s worrying. I haven’t been able to go to work since August 31 when I was diagnosed with it. And no one can tell me when I’ll be able to go back. I just have to keep sending samples and hope to get two negative tests.”
Having first noticed his symptoms on August 24, Jason went on to suffer from stomach cramps and diarrhoea, and loss of appetite. Like many others, he feared he had contracted Covid-19 and immediately went for a test. His results came back negative, but by this time his concerns lay elsewhere.
“A few days later, Oscar started to feel unwell, but his was on a much worse scale than mine; he was absolutely hunched over with it, it was unreal. It was horrible to see your son like that. I’m 38 and it was bad for me, but for a young boy, it was much worse.”
On August 28, Oscar was admitted to Wexford General Hospital and stayed overnight. But with no indications that anything was amiss with the water in Gorey, doctors were unable to diagnose him and he was released the next morning. The following Wednesday (September 1) Oscar was also diagnosed with e-coli but it was to be another ten days before he was well enough to return to school.
Currently, when he finishes his classes for the day, Oscar is met at the school gates by his dad – this enforced absence allowing the two to spend a little more quality time together. But that quality time is coming at a cost.
“With my type of work I would have different rates for overnight stays and working on Sundays, but at the moment I’m on a flat rate because I’m on sick leave. I’m already going to be down around €1,000-1,300 in my wages next month,” Jason says. “All I want is to be able to earn, I’m not looking for anything else. I only have so much sick leave. When that runs out, I might be able to use next year’s leave but that’s not ideal either, you don’t know what’s around the corner. I haven’t a clue what the next few weeks holds, I don’t know. My test results could come back fine, I’m praying that they do, but I could be out for another month, and it’s the financial side of things I’m worried about.”
So desperate is he to return to his job, Jason even suggested wearing PPE while he works but has been informed the VTEC strain of e-coli is too dangerous to take such risks. Although his employers have been “incredibly supportive and understanding” of his situation, Jason must now sit and wait and hope the e-coli leaves his system sooner rather than later.
In the meantime he is hopeful someone will take responsibility for the illness which has caused severe illness to two members of his family and left him significantly out of pocket.
“I think with stuff like this, people have to take ownership of it. When it happened no one came forward and let the public know. I only found out it could be the water when my wife tagged me on a Facebook post. It’s simply not good enough.”