Southsea swimmer with Hepatitis A says she contracted illness from ocean

Raw Sewage Langstone Harbour Raw sewage spills into Langstone Harbour. Image courtesy of Chris Pearsall

A British woman who once swam regularly in the ocean between Southsea and Eastney says she believes she contracted Hepatitis A from dirty water at the seafront.

Speaking to Portsmouth News, Hannah Murray, a 38-year-old mental health professional, says she swam in the waters “two or three” times per week before becoming sick last June.

Over Christmas, her condition deteriorated and she went to A&E, where she was diagnosed with Hepatitis A.

Hepatitis A is a rare and highly contagious liver infection that is spread through the faecal matter of an infected person. While symptoms can be serious, it is treatable — most people with the virus fully recover, but it can take several months. The infection is rare in the UK and is more commonly found in parts of Africa, Asia, the Middle East and Central and South America.

Murray says there is “nowhere else” she could have caught the virus, aside from the sea. Utility company Southern Water, which handles wastewater in the region, has disputed the claim and says the water quality is “sufficient”, based on recent samples.

The news comes shortly after charity The Final Straw Foundation and a team of scientists found traces of E-coli and cocaine in Hampshire waters.

Environment Agency data reveals Southern Water pumped sewage into Langstone Harbour for almost 900 hours in 2021. The same year, the company was given a £90m fine after admitting to 6,971 incidents of illegal sewage dumping over a five-year period between 2010 and 2015.

Southsea
The coastal resort of Southsea, near Portsmouth

“The infection has been awful,” the Southsea local says. “I have been vomiting so much and have felt like I’ve had no energy whatsoever. I’m lucky that I went to my GP and we caught it so early, which means it can be treated. But my diet is clean, and there’s nothing else I do that could have caused me to pick this up, so there’s nowhere else this could have come from but the open water.

“It’s a shame because it’s a huge passion of mine and great for mental wellbeing – I’ve previously encouraged my clients to take it up, but how can I do that when I’ve ended up like this?”

A spokesman for Southern Water told the News: “We are sorry to hear of a member of the public being unwell. Southern Water is one of many custodians of bathing water quality along our region’s coastlines, and we continue to work closely with a range of other partners, including local authorities, the agricultural sector and wider public, to enhance and protect our environment.

“For example, we are talking to Portsmouth City Council about installing education signs along the seafront, and are leading the water industry in seeking innovative solutions to storm overflows. Meanwhile, residents can use our Beachbuoy app, which offers near-live updates on any activity which could impact bathing water quality.”

Water companies across the UK have been accused of dumping sewage against guidelines. In November, Surfers Against Sewage (SAS) released its 2022 Water Quality Report, which uncovers potential illegal sewage discharges, as well as shocking statistics from 700 sickness cases reportedly related to swimming in polluted waters.

According to data from The Environment Agency, over the course of 2020 and 2021, sewage was dumped into the ocean and rivers around the UK more than 770,000 times.

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This article was written and/or edited by the UK-based MIN team.

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