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Splashes norovirus investigation concluded

Following reports of sickness among some customers who visited Splashes in Rainham on Friday, 28 October, an investigation was launched by Public Health England, supported by Medway Council.

At the time it was quickly determined that norovirus was the cause of the illness, and the pool and changing areas underwent an urgent deep clean as soon as reports of illness were received.

Public Health England has worked closely with the council since and has now concluded its investigation in to the outbreak.

It confirmed chlorine levels in the pool at the start of the day were within the council’s normal operating procedure guidelines – at a level which means norovirus should not have been able to spread in the water. However further checks were not formally recorded by staff after 2pm, and it was not clear whether chlorine levels were maintained above recommended levels for this period.

In this instance, PHE has noted a lack of compliance against Medway Council’s own standard pool operation procedures.

The normal operating procedure for Medway Council-run swimming pools includes a high but safe amount of chlorine (2 x national minimum guidance amount). However during special themed pool parties dye is added to the water and the chlorine level is knowingly lowered, but remains within national pool water advisory guidelines, to allow for the dye to take effect. Staff have good experience in using the colouring dye and manufacturer’s guidance is always followed. The product has been used at more than 10 special pool events since 2015.

PHE concluded that ‘prompt and robust actions undertaken by leisure management and Medway Council’s environmental health team in response to the reported outbreak mitigated further risks to pool users.’

Recommendations and actions

Following these findings, PHE has suggested that a review of scientific evidence may be needed to determine how much chlorine is necessary to prevent the spread of norovirus in water. PHE is taking this up with the Pool Water Treatment Advisory Group advisory group (PWTAG), which publishes national guidance on pool water safety.

PHE has identified that strict compliance with Medway Council’s normal robust operation procedures would minimise the risk of further outbreaks occurring in the future. Also, that enhanced vigilance and oversight should be considered when deviating from normal pool procedures.

It has been recommended that staff undergo additional training on the need to maintain clear records after measuring chemical levels, and should also consider ways to improve the use of showers before and after pool use by customers – the council has already addressed both points.

PHE has concluded it was not possible to identify how or where norovirus was introduced or spread during the affected period. As a precaution going forward, the council will no longer use dye in its pools.

Medway Council’s Portfolio Holder for Community Services Cllr Howard Doe said: “We have worked closely with Public Health England to look into how customers could have become ill after visiting Splashes. I would like to say again on behalf of the council that we are sorry to those who felt unwell after enjoying the pool party.

“This was a rare and isolated incident for Medway. We have a fantastic range of leisure facilities in Medway, all of which are run in-line with strict health and safety guidelines to ensure residents and visitors have an enjoyable experience.”