Results of Hampton Court Swim – Public Health England Report

This is not really the sort of thing I blog about on here but I received this email today and thought that some of my non wetsuit which you can get more at Buy4Outdoors,  swimming friends would appreciate some of the findings. I searched around online for a link where I could share the content but not being able to find one I decided to post the email here so as to easily share it.

I would first like to say that The Hampton Court Swim is a great event! I have participated in it for the last two years and both times the experience has been amazing and despite my recent disappointment with this years Human Race Eton 10K event, I could not and would not fault the organisation of the previous Hampton Court swims.

Unfortunately shortly after the running of the 2012 swim there where a number of people that reported becoming very ill and as a result Human Race and the Health Protection Agency conducted a survey of the participants to try and establish the cause of the illness and what factors may have increased or decreased the risk of becoming ill.

The email below is the one I received today and I suspect the findings will cause some amusement among the more traditional “channel rules” swimmers out there.


Dear Swimmer,

Thank you to everyone who supplied their feedback following the Hampton Court Swim 2012. Public Health England has compiled the following report based on your feedback and Human Race are taking every possible step to ensure that swimmers have the facilities for hand and wetsuit washing at this year’s event. Please see below for more detailed information;

A new report published today by Public Health England (PHE) shows that swimming in the River Thames can carry a risk of gastrointestinal illness.

The report was produced following an investigation by PHE, and event organisers Human Race, into an outbreak of gastrointestinal illness amongst participants of the Hampton Court Swim which took place on Sunday 7 October 2012 in the stretch of river between Hampton Court and Kingston Bridge. Over 1000 people took part in the swim and 338 reported experiencing symptoms of illness after the swim including nausea, diarrhoea, stomach cramps and vomiting.

The investigation found that no one single cause of illness in the majority of people could be identified but it is possible that illness was caused by a virus or bacteria that remained undetected. As expected by the researchers, those who were ill were more likely to have swallowed river water but, unexpectedly, wearing a wetsuit was also associated with increased risk of becoming ill, which may be due to inadequate hygiene precautions when handling wetsuits after swimming. Previous experience of swimming in an open water event in a river in the past two years and being over 40 years of age was associated with reduced risk.

Dr Yvonne Doyle, regional director for PHE London, said: “Open water swimming is growing in popularity in the UK. Many people may already be aware that swimming in natural rivers and lakes, which may not be designated bathing waters, carries a risk of picking up infections. This study presented an opportunity to better understand the health risks associated with open water swimming, develop advice to assist organisers of open water swimming events, and tips to help swimmers to protect themselves from infections in future.

“Further research is needed to make evidence-based recommendations for swimmers and event organisers, however there are practical measures swimmers can take to reduce the risk of illness such as minimising the swallowing of river water, showering soon after swimming and washing hands before eating.”

Victoria Hall, lead author of the report and an epidemiologist at PHE, said: “We worked with the event organisers Human Race to organise an online survey for race participants. There was an immense response with over 700 people taking part in the survey.

“Some people provided samples for laboratory testing but the only positive results were four cases of Giardia and one case of Cryptosporidium. While these organisms can cause gastrointestinal illness and have been associated with swimming in lakes or rivers, it is unlikely that these organisms caused the majority of illness in participants as people became ill too quickly.

“We have to be cautious when interpreting the finding that wearing a wetsuit was associated with illness. This could be due to a factor that was not measured in our survey. However, it could be that handling a wetsuit after swimming may pose an infection risk and this warrants further investigation. While we are not recommending that people stop wearing wetsuits, sensible precautions to reduce the chances of infection, such as and cleaning wetsuits thoroughly after swimming, should be considered.”

“We found that being over 40 years of age and having swum in an open water event in a river in the last two years were protective factors against illness. This could be related to experience, either behaviours whilst swimming or after swimming, or perhaps signifies enhanced immunity resulting from greater previous exposure.”

Human Race has welcomed the findings of the report and has put in place measures to ensure that participants can take the necessary steps to avoid being ill following open water swimming.

All participants taking part in this year’s Hampton Court Swim will be highly recommended to ensure that they wash their hands and shower as soon as possible following the swim, based on the recommendations from Public Health England. In addition to this, Human Race will be encouraging participants to properly wash down their wetsuit and will be providing somewhere to wash hands to ensure that every possible step is taken to avoid participant illness.

Nick Rusling, CEO of Human Race said: “We continue to work very closely with Public Health England to reduce the risk of illness at future events. Based on their findings we have introduced measures, at no extra cost to our competitors, to ensure that we go over and above the recommendations and provide the best possible experience for our participants. While swimming in open water will always carry some risk, the vast majority of competitors in our events have a very positive experience. Good hygiene practice should always be part of everyone’s routine.”

Yours in sport,

The Human Race Team


If you are interested in finding out more about the Human Race Hampton Court swim or perhaps even signing up for it then please vist the link below:

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  1. Richard
    Posted May 30, 2013 at 9:49 am | Permalink

    In summary, this report says:

    The river where a whole lot of people swam was likely polluted with human faeces, which caused a gastrointestinal outbreak.

    We find some correlation with wetsuit use.

    We don’t consider that this could be a selection effect (new swimmers more likely to use wetsuits, more likely to swallow water, and have immune systems not used to dealing with pathogens), and instead choose to suggest it could be due to “inadequate hygiene precautions when handling wetsuits after swimming.”

    What is being suggested? Do wetsuit swimmers lick their wetsuits? Did they ingest the wetsuits? What is it about wetsuit use that _causes_ people to become sick with a gastrointestinal infection?

    Causation is almost certainly here not related to correlation. What a nonsense. Senseless anti-wetsuit propaganda.

  2. Posted May 30, 2013 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    Just found this press release on the GOV.UK website:

    “Swimming in the River Thames can carry a risk of gastrointestinal illness”

    There is also a link to the full report which you can download as a PDF:

  3. hmmmm
    Posted May 31, 2013 at 4:37 am | Permalink

    anti wetsuit propoganda!!!!! all they are saying – which is obvious – is people p*ss in their wetsuits, dont wash them or their hands afterwards and get ill.

  4. TanyaB
    Posted June 1, 2013 at 9:04 am | Permalink

    Another waist of money. Tests were not done on a day of the event and analysing results with that outcome is totally ridiculous. There were 1117 finished and 13! were without wetsuits. They just needed to blame something, so why not wetsuits :)

  5. Posted June 4, 2013 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

    I read the full report the other day and thought it was very balanced in it’s findings. They couldn’t make any conclusions regarding the source of the infection because The River Thames is not designated as bathing water and therefore no routine microbiological monitoring of water quality is conducted and thus no data exists to determine conclusively if the river was the source of the infection, either from normal levels or possible higher levels of bacteria on the day.

    The organisers did conduct water testing prior to the event, taking samples on 05 October and 07 October (race day) from the site of the race start. Samples were tested for nitrates, carbonates, Escherichia coli (as an indicator of faecal contamination) and blue green algae. No other pathogens were tested for. The organisers reported that “no concerns” were raised from these test results.

    The comments about wetsuits in the press and other places have mostly been taken out of context. They are not trying to blame wetsuit wearers etc but simply provide better guidance for future events to help minimise infections. i.e. organisers should provide showers and washing facilities for participants, beyond that it does not condem or criticise open water swimming, in fact it suggests that with the growth of open water swimming there should be more resources dedicated to awareness and monitoring of water quality to aid organisers of future events and swimmers to make informed decisions.

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