Mexico holiday alert as five Northern Ireland tourists struck down with crippling Cyclospora bug
Health bodies have warned tourists to be wary of travelling to parts of Mexico after five Northern Ireland holidaymakers were struck down with the serious food poisoning bug Cyclospora in a mass sickness outbreak.
The outbreak involves 24 luxury hotel complexes in the Riviera Maya area around Cancun.
The Public Health Agency is now warning anyone who has been to the area and has returned home ill to seek immediate medical help.
More people are expected to be affected by the illness in the coming weeks and the Foreign Office has now updated its website to include a warning from health authorities about travelling to the region.
The illness is thought to be linked to tainted food supplied to hotels, with victims as young as 12.
The same area suffered a similar outbreak last year when 76 Britons were taken ill by the same bug.
Guests are believed to have eaten contaminated food in their hotels and later fell ill with severe stomach cramps and diarrhoea.
A number of different hotels are now believed to be affected by the outbreak, including the Thomson-run four star Catalonia Riviera Maya Resort & Spa, Sensatori Resort Mexico and Hotel Royalton Riviera Cancun.
Nick Harris, head of holiday claims at Simpson Millar solicitors, who are now handling claims for more than 100 UK holidaymakers caught up in the outbreak, said: "This outbreak is very concerning.
"People are coming to us every hour complaining of sickness from across Mexico as well as Riviera Maya. We have been inundated with calls from worried travellers caught up in this.
"Tourists have been contacting us about Cyclospora illness, which is very debilitating and causes severe stomach cramps, sickness and diarrhoea."
He urged anyone who has been sick like this on holiday to visit their GP immediately.
He added: "This summer people have travelled further afield after many main resorts in Egypt, Turkey and Tunisia have virtually closed down due to past terror attacks.
"Holidaymakers have opted for perceived safer destinations like Mexico. But these countries are still developing and come with less stringent hygiene and food controls, which leads to more sickness outbreaks among tourists.
"I think these recent warning notices about the outbreak may be too little, too late. The bug has already spread out of control in the resort in Mexico. Tour operators need to do more to ensure the safety of their customers when holidaying abroad."
Victims who have returned to Northern Ireland from the resort have been very sick and after laboratory tests they have since been diagnosed with Cyclospora.
The bug is spread by infected human faeces contaminating water or food and previous outbreaks have been connected to fresh fruit such as raspberries and salad products such as basil and lettuce. Symptoms include frequent, watery diarrhoea, abdominal cramping, bloating, nausea, flatulence, low-grade fever, loss of appetite and weight.
A spokeswoman for the Public Health Agency confirmed local holidaymakers had been caught up in the sickness outbreak.
She said: "The Public Health Agency (PHA) is aware of five confirmed cases of Cyclospora in Northern Ireland travellers returning from Mexico.
PHA is advising people planning on travelling to the Riviera Maya coast in Mexico to be aware of the risk of infection from a food and water bug, Cyclospora.
"Individuals with underlying immune deficiency can be at risk of more severe infection. People should maintain a high standard of food, water and personal hygiene when travelling to the Riviera Maya coast in Mexico."
A spokesperson for Thomson said: "Public Health England has advised us of a number of sickness cases associated to an issue called Cyclospora in the Riviera Maya region of Mexico.
"There is not a particular hotel, hotel chain or tour operator implicated and the source of the issue is still being investigated.
"We are working with relevant partners and authorities both in Mexico and the UK to ensure customer wellbeing and to investigate the matter.
"While it is believed it could be caused by a food product distributed in the region, we always encourage customers to follow guidance from official health bodies such as the NHS, which have up-to-date advice on staying safe and healthy abroad."