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Friday, 1 September, 2000, 18:44 GMT 19:44 UK
Bug warning extended
About 100,000 people in Northern Ireland have been advised to boil tap water to combat the spread of a stomach bug thought to be linked to the supply.
Householders in Lisburn, County Antrim, received the warning on Friday morning, just a day after people on the periphery of Belfast were given similar instructions from the Eastern Health and Social Services Board.
It can cause vomiting and diarrhoea and can make elderly and very young people seriously ill.
The Eastern Health and Social Services Board delivered leaflets to 17,000 homes in the area supplied by Poleglass reservoir on Thursday.
However, on Friday morning the Water Service found out that a number of the confirmed cases of cryptosporidium infection were outside the initial area supplied by the reservoir.
The affected area now includes Lisburn to Nutts Corner, Poleglass, Twinbrook and Dunmurry.
Northern Ireland environment minister Gregory Campbell, whose department is responsible for the Water Service, said his officials believed that the water had become infected somewhere along a seven-mile long pipe running into the reservoir.
But he told the BBC that it could take up to ten days for the source of the "ingress" to be identified.
However, the Water Service is draining Poleglass reservoir, and it is possible that another water source could be diverted to supply the affected area.
First Minister David Trimble has expressed "deep concern" about the outbreak and asked for an urgent report from the department on the current situation and the measures being taken to deal with the problem.
He said: "There has to be and there will be immediate action to try and remedy it."
But he said that the heart of the problem lay in decades of underfunding of the water service infrastructure which he said needed £3bn invested over the next 20 years.
"This conduit was built in 1890. Quite clearly it is becoming increasingly difficult for it, and other conduits like it, to cope with the scale of developments and improvements that have occurred over 100 years."
Source of infection unclear
The cryptosporidium outbreak is the most widespread this year.
Tests carried out by health officials on Poleglass reservoir have showed a "slightly higher" level of the bug in recent days.
Similar tests have shown no trace of the bug in samples taken from taps in homes and businesses, leading to uncertainty as to the cause of the outbreak.
The Eastern Health Board said that people were being advised to boil water "purely precautionary measure".
But Patrick Dunlop, a research scientist at the University of Ulster, said water was not the only way the cryptosporidium parasite could have infected people.
He said: "Cases of waterborne cryptosporidiosis are very rare. There are a number of ways of becoming infected - by not washing fruit and vegetables, from person to person contact or from swimming in a swimming pool that someone has had a faecal accident in."
Criticism of outbreak response
Meanwhile, an environmental expert has criticised the way health officials have handled of the outbreak.
Des Loughridge, of the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment, said a recent outbreak of the bug in England appeared to have been treated with greater urgency.
"That reservoir was closed off, boiled water notices issued immediately and people were compensated," he said.
Northern Ireland's chief medical officer Dr Henrietta Campbell has said she was confident the outbreak was being treated in the correct manner.
"We are very fortunate in that there are clear national guidelines which have been set down over the years, tried and tested methods.
"I'm quite confident that the Eastern Board have been following those guidelines to the letter," she said.
Many people have resorted to buying bottled water, and as the parasite particularly puts older people at risk, free supplies are being delivered to local nursing homes.
Residents are being advised to boil tap water for brushing their teeth.
People uncertain whether they are in the affected area should contact Customer Services. The telephone number is 0845 7440088.
The board has said notices will be issued when it is considered the water can be consumed safely without being boiled.
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