Health chiefs have been criticised for taking several weeks to ‘close’ the River Otter - despite 20 swimmers reporting they had fallen ill.

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Earlier this month, environmental health at East Devon District Council (EDDC) warned people not to paddle in the River Otter or any other East Devon river.

Children had contracted the highly-infectious norovirus after paddling near the Lime Kiln car park.

The warning, which will remain in place until after the October half-term holiday, led to the cancellation of the Budleigh Salterton Lions Club annual Duck Race.

But last week, in a Facebook posting reacting to the story on the Journal’s website, Christina Lodge said: “I don’t know why they are only just warning the public now, when we reported this to environmental health at the beginning of the summer holidays when over 20 of us were ill with the virus after a day out (at Dotton Ford near Newton Poppleford).

“It’s a shame they didn’t act sooner, so more people could have avoided this bug.”

A district council spokesman said that the illness was reported five days afterwards when one of the swimmers belatedly made the connection.

He said: “Too much time had elapsed between the swimming in the river and the potential link being reported to us to enable samples to be taken.

“The doctors’ surgeries involved did not test for norovirus or report the situation to the Health Protection Agency (HPA).

“The Environment Agency (EA) did sample the river water the next day and the results did not show any unusual levels of contamination.”

He said in the recent Lime Kiln case, it was the HPA which raised the alarm and advised the families affected to contact environmental health.

He said: “They did this within 48 hours of being in the river.”

A discussion between EDDC, the HPA and the EA then revealed the previous case at Dotton, and a third confirmed case in Stoke Canon on the River Exe.

He added: “Taking all of this into account, we made a joint decision to send out the warning.”

If you come into contact with the river, you are advised not to swallow any water and wash your hands, faces and any wetsuits.

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