United Utilities tells customers to boil water before use as supermarket shelves are emptied of bottled water
Thousands of people in northwest England are being advised to boil their drinking water, after traces of parasites were found in the supply.
Cryptosporidium, which can cause diarrhoea, stomach cramps and vomiting, was detected during routine tests at a water treatment works in Preston.
Residents in Blackpool, Preston, Chorley, Fylde, Wyre and South Ribble are affected.
United Utilities is urging customers to boil the water they need for drinking, preparing food and brushing their teeth “as a precaution until further notice”.
The supplier said it is still safe to wash clothes and bathe as normal, but recommended dishwashers be run as hot as possible (65 degrees or higher).
It is not clear how long the safety warning will be in place, but United Utilities said in tweets replying to customers’ concerns that it would likely be “a couple of days” while the company carries out a “large number of tests”.
United Utilities told one customer it would deliver water to an elderly woman upset over the incident.
To another customer asking: “What about kids that wash their hands then put their fingers/thumbs in their mouth? Will that transfer the bug?” the company replied: “Re: little ones, try to not put water in mouths”.
Leona Worth of Fulwood, Preston, told the Lancashire Evening Post: “I am very concerned I have two young children. I have only just heard about it on the news. I am panicking because I have been drinking water all day.
“I’ve never heard of this before. I’m a concerned parent.”
Carly Whittam, from Woodplumpton, said: “I have been off sick with a virus. I have been in bed all week. I’m concerned that this the water is what has caused it because I’ve been feeling worse again today.
“We won’t be letting the kids drink water.”
Martin Padley, the chief scientific officer for United Utilities, said: “We apologise for the inconvenience but the health of our customers is absolutely paramount.”
Those affected are being urged to tell elderly relatives and neighbours about the water warning.
In some areas it was reported that supermarket shelves had been stripped of bottled water by concerned customers.
According to United Utilities, cryptosporidium causes a gastrointestinal illness called cryptosporidiosis.
The illness lasts from a week to three weeks in healthy individuals, but “can be prolonged and life threatening in severely immunocompromised individuals”, the company said.
Residents in the North West can find out if their supply is affected on the United Utilities on their website.