Toxic water scare rocks Cradock as several fall ill


The water in Cradock is safe to drink and there is no crisis. That is the word from the Chris Hani District Municipality, despite several complaints by residents of the small town in the Eastern Cape.

The DA said that thirteen people, including two four-year-olds, were treated at Cradock hospital over the weekend for gastroenteritis due to suspected water contamination.

Gastroenteritis is an infection of the stomach and intestines caused by a virus or bacteria, explained Health24 resident doctor Dr Heidi van Deventer.

'24 hour' bug

"There are a few different viruses and bacteria that can cause gastroenteritis; they all cause symptoms such as fever, body aches, loss of appetite, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea and abdominal pain and stomach cramps."

She said the symptoms vary according to how severe the infection is and what type of virus or bacteria is causing the infection.

"Sometimes one can have a '24 hour' bug with vomiting, diarrhoea and mild dehydration. This can be treated at home, especially if the patient can tolerate adequate fluid intake. On the other end of the spectrum are the viruses and bacteria that cause severe vomiting and diarrhoea."

Dr van Deventer said patients, especially young children and the elderly, usually need to be admitted to hospital to prevent them from becoming severely dehydrated.

Regarding the quality of the water source, she advised that it would be best to boil the water and cool it down before drinking it or to use a completely different source of water such as bottled water.  

"The other way to prevent spreading gastroenteritis is to wash one's hands regularly, especially when you have been in contact with someone who has gastroenteritis," Dr van Deventer recommended.  

Taking all precautions

However, Chris Hani District Municipality Communications Manager Thobeka Mqamelo told Health24 that the gastro cases are not linked to drinking contaminated water.

"The hospital Superintendent Dr Ratyana refuted the claims of people hospitalised as a result of gastro infection linked with water contamination."  

Mqamelo said the municipality is closely monitoring the water situation in the area and taking all precautions to ensure the quality of water service.  

"Water in the area is tested timeously and at this point in time no results have indicated that water is unfit for human consumption."  

DA MPL Kobus Botha told Health24 that the municipality has been struggling for years to deliver quality and safe water.

Foreign objects dumped into system

"The quality of the water is compromised and unpalatable. The colour represents the presence of green algae and it smells."

Botha added that the Cradock waste water treatment plant is operating at less than 50% of its full capacity, with frequent raw sewage spills into the Great Fish River.

Mqamelo conceded there has been occasional sewerage spillages into the Fish River, but said the municipality is working on resolving it.  

"This is caused mainly by foreign objects that are dumped in the system and a single pump that constantly malfunctions – awareness campaigns are ensuring to warn people against random dumping as this has dire consequences, importantly a new pump has been sourced to ensure optimal functioning of the system," she said.

Botha pointed out that if there was no water crisis then Cooperative Governance MEC Fikile Xasa, together with the municipal managers of Chris Hani District and Inxuba Yethemba, would not have been summoned to appear before the Portfolio Committee in Cape Town to explain how the water situation in Cradock and Middelburg is being addressed.

The Eastern Cape's Department of Health did not respond to Health24 for comment.

Also read:

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