Dad became 'seriously ill' from parasite infection after swimming in Welsh river

Alan Pretsell, from Rossett in Wrexham, was unwell for weeks after contacting giardiasis. Credit: Media Wales

A dad-of-three said he's been left with recurring health problems after swimming in a Welsh river which he believes contained human sewage.

Alan Pretsell, from Rossett in Wrexham, was unwell for weeks after contacting giardiasis, a condition caused by a microscopic parasite which can be caught by consuming food or water contaminated with faeces.The 50-year-old mature student said he first fell ill during lockdown in 2020 after swimming in the River Alyn, which is a popular destination for anglers and other water users.

It's also been the subject of several investigations over recent years – one of the most recent being in 2018 when excrement and sanitary products were found in its waters, which the local community council blamed on a Welsh Water waste treatment plant in the neighbouring village of Gresford.

Alan Pretsell went for a swim during lockdown 2020 in the River Alyn - a popular destination for anglers and other water users. Credit: Media Wales

"We don't live far from the Alyn and I used to be in there a lot splashing about during the nice weather," said Alan, who's decided to share his cautionary story after sewage was released into the sea at Wales' beaches following the recent heatwave. He added that he started feeling unwell a few days after taking a dip."I didn't know what it was at first but it knocked me for six. It was mostly dysentery – I didn't dare being further than five feet from a toilet for more than a few minutes at a time."It got so bad that I even went to my local A&E but it was like a warzone in there during lockdown so I turned back. And I felt like that – all fluey and horrible – for weeks. I just couldn't shake it."Alan said he then got a phone call from environmental health officers. "The first thing they said to me was: 'Have you been swimming in any rivers?'"Then they asked me if I'd eaten any takeaways as though they were trying to work out if there was a hygiene issue at a restaurant somewhere which could've caused it. But I told them it couldn't be that."And Alan, who still experiences occasional symptoms even now, isn't the only one to be affected. Lifeboat volunteer David Deveney suffered giardiasis after spending two hours on a training exercise in the River Severn in October 2020.The HGV recovery technician from Newport suffered similar complaints including projectile vomiting and severe diarrhoea. A recent investigation discovered there was an 80% chance it had come from exposure to human sewage.In 2021 data from Welsh Water records showed that raw sewage had been dumped into Wales' waterways more than 100,000 times in just 12 months. Done to relieve pressure on the sewage network caused by heavy rain storms, it's believed that without such outlets the system would simply back up.

As a result sewage would likely flood out into buildings, streets, highways and come up through toilets inside people's homes.Similar downpours followed the UK's most recent heatwave causing sewers to overflow. Subsequent efforts to ease the situation then saw sewage being dumped into the sea at a number of Welsh beaches earlier this month.A spokesperson for Public Health Wales - to which notifiable illnesses such as giardiasis have to be reported - said: "Open water swimming can increase the risk of gastrointestinal infections as well as respiratory, skin, ear and eye infections. Most symptoms of these illnesses will generally be mild, caused by organisms such as norovirus, giardia and cryptosporidium."However, there is also a risk of more severe infections caused by organisms such as E. coli O157 which may cause severe gastrointestinal illness and leptospirosis, which can cause liver and kidney problems."Practical measures swimmers can take to reduce the risk of illness include minimizing the swallowing of water, covering cuts and abrasions with waterproof plasters, showering soon after swimming and washing their hands before eating."If there is clear evidence of sewage discharge in the vicinity we would urge swimmers to avoid swimming in that area."