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4 July 2014, 13:31
People who take part in open water swimming events have been urged to step up hygiene measures after a number of New Forest triathlon athletes were struck down with a nasty bacterial infection.
Public Health England (PHE) said it had been made aware of a handful of leptospirosis cases which have been linked to triathlon events at the Avon Tyrrell Outdoor Activity Centre, in Bransgore in the New Forest.
The infection, which can by caught by touching soil or water contaminated with the urine of wild animals infected with the leptospira bacteria, can lead to serious illness.
Health officials said they had been made aware of two confirmed and one possible case of the infection following a weekend of events between May 30 and June 2.
Two possible cases have also been noted in participants of the event from outside the UK.
Nine in ten cases of leptospirosis see people struck down with mild flu-like symptoms but in some cases the infection can cause life-threatening problems including organ failure and internal bleeding.
As a result, PHE has reiterated guidance on how to prevent illness after swimming in open water.
A spokesman said that open water swimming is growing in popularity in the UK but there have been outbreaks of gastrointestinal infections associated with mass participation events, as well as cases of respiratory, skin, ear and eye infections.
He cautioned that there is also a risk of more severe infections which can lead to serious problems.
``In the UK, cases of leptospirosis are uncommon,'' said Dr Hilary Kirkbride, consultant epidemiologist at PHE.
``There is no reason why people should not participate in freshwater activities such as swimming, sailing, water skiing or windsurfing, but we advise people to take simple precautions to reduce their risk of infection before engaging in these leisure pursuits.
``Practical measures swimmers can take include minimising the swallowing of water, showering soon after swimming and washing hands before eating.''
Experts at the health body have said that while they are not expecting any new cases to emerge from the event in Hampshire any participant who has been feeling unwell should contact their GP.
Edgar Ette, event organiser for the triathlon event at Enduroman, added: ``This is a very unfortunate incident and we have made sure all participants were informed of the recent illnesses by email. We are working closely with PHE and will continue to provide updates.''