Dad became seriously ill from parasite infection after simply swimming in a river

A father said he’s been left with recurring health problems after coming into contact with what he claims was human sewage in a river.

Alan Pretsell, 50, was floored 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 dad of three first fell ill during lockdown in 2020 after swimming in the River Alyn, near Wrexham, north Wales, 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 told WalesOnline : “We don’t live far from the Alyn and I used to be in there a lot splashing about during the nice weather.

“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.”

The mature student, who lives in Wrexham, has decided to share his cautionary story after sewage was released into the sea at Wales’ beaches following the recent heatwave.

When Alan got a phone call from environmental health officers in 2020, he was asked if he had been swimming in any rivers.

The father continued: “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.”

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.

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.”