Seawater Contaminated with E. Coli Gets 57 Triathlon Contestants Sick with Explosive Diarrhea

  • After the main event, they’re now racing to make it to the bathroom in time.

On July 29-30, the World Triathlon Championship Series brought roughly 2,000 contestants to Roker Beach in the town of Sunderland, northeastern England. They ran, biked, and swam around the beach and town to prove their mettle in this mixed sporting event.

In the men’s series, Pierre Le Corre from France raced to victory, while his compatriot Cassandre Beaugrand took the #1 position in the women’s category. All in all, it was a weekend of good fun and sportsmanship for all contestants.

And then a bunch of them started s***ting their guts out. At least 57 participants have reported falling ill with “sickness and diarrhea,” according to The Guardian.

The reason why was revealed in tests carried out by the U.K. Environment Agency (EA). As it turns out, the waters around Roker Beach happened to be swarming with E. coli.

Tests conducted before the event showed that the beach’s seawater contained a 39 times higher concentration of the gut-churning bacteria than usual. And the triathlon contestants dove headfirst into it.

The whole debacle seems to stem from poor timing. According to the British Triathlon organization, the EA published its test results only on July 31, after the races had already taken place.

And by then, it was too late.

Off the Charts

The EA carried out water quality tests at Roker Beach on Wednesday, July 26 — merely three days before the World Triathlon event. The results were all but healthy.

According to the tests, the water samples contained 3,900 E. coli colonies per 100 ml (3.4 fl oz). That is more than 39 times higher than typical readings taken at the beach a month prior.

“The sample taken on 26 July showed unprecedented levels of E. coli well over what is natural for this water body or safe for human recreational use, and urgently needs to be investigated,” Eva Perrin, science and research officer at Surfers Against Sewage, said in response to the EA results.

In case you happen to be unaware of it, Escherichia coli is a delightful little bacterium would in the lower intestines of warm-blooded life forms. Most strains of E. coli are perfectly harmless or even beneficial, but some cause serious food poisoning.

The most common way people get infected with E. coli is by ingesting sewage-contaminated food or water — like that at Roker Beach. Symptoms of E. coli infection include violent and possibly bloody diarrhea, stomach cramps, vomiting, and fever.

There’s no particular way to treat the infection, and you generally just have to let your guts flush the bacteria out over the next couple of weeks.


‘That’s What Happens When You Swim in S***’

Needless to say, the participating triathletes weren’t exactly thrilled about the news. Even those who weren’t currently suffering on the porcelain throne were incensed.

Australian athlete Jacob Birtwhistle, 28, who competed in Sunderland, shared the EA results on his Instagram page.

“Have been feeling pretty rubbish since the race, but I guess that’s what happens when you swim in s***,” he wrote, adding that the swim should’ve been canceled.

“At least I know what got me and a bunch of other athletes who raced sick and ill,” one contestant responded to the post.

“That now explains why I spent Monday night with my head in the toilet after racing Sunday morning!” another wrote.

For its part, British Triathlon is washing its hands (literally) of the incident. The organization stated that it wasn’t aware of the results until after the race, and that its own tests conducted at the race area had come back clean.

Clearly, they missed a couple of bacteria at some point.

Clean Since October 2021, Supposedly

But where did the poopy water at the beach come from? That’s the big mystery that needs solving.

According to The Guardian, Roker Beach is located on a stretch of coastline that has a history of sewage contamination in the seawater. Environmental organizations and activists have been wrangling with the government for a long time about regulatory failures.

Data from the Rivers Trust, an organization monitoring the health of the U.K.’s waterways, showed that storms caused sewers to overflow in the Wear Estuary near Sunderland 28 times in 2022.

Yet, Northumbrian Water, which manages sewage treatment in the area, claims innocence.

“We have had no discharges from any of our assets that might negatively impact water quality at either Roker or the neighboring Whitburn North bathing water since October 2021,” a spokesperson told The Guardian.

The crap had to come from somewhere, though. In the absence of an official investigation, all anyone can do is point fingers in anger.

At least British Triathlon said it’s sleuthing to get to the bottom of the unsanitary mystery. The organization is working with the U.K. Health Security Agency to determine how many contestants fell ill and to find the source of the bacteria.

We’re guessing that’s a cold comfort to the athletes currently stuck in their bathrooms.

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