The boys were swimming at the Old Bathing Place in Stratford, according to local media reports. The spot has been a well-known swimming spot for many years, despite it not being designated as a bathing water.
Christian Lewis-Medward, aged 17, was hospitalised on Friday. His mother, Merry Lewis-Medward, told the Stratford-upon-Avon Herald that he went swimming on Thursday and began to feel sick the next day.
“He vomited for 12 hours, and we took him to A&E at the Queen Elizabeth, which is near to where I live,” Christian’s mother told the Herald. “He began struggling to breath, and the doctor suggested it could be a nasty bug from contaminated river water. He came home after spending Saturday there, but [we] have had to keep an eye out in case he developed sepsis or E-coli symptoms.
“He’s a very fit healthy lad, a strapping 6ft 1in tall – he goes to football academy but this knocked him off his feet.”
The Avon, like most of England’s rivers, suffers from raw sewage pollution from combined sewer overflows. Last year, untreated sewage was discharged into England’s waterways for a total of 3.1 million hours. Rivers such as the Avon also struggle with diffuse pollution from agriculture and urban run-off.
The last assessment of England’s water bodies, conducted by the Environment Agency in 2019 and published in 2020, showed that no rivers met the overall standard for chemical and ecological health.
A spokesperson for Severn Trent Water said the Environment Agency was responsible for water quality and added that it was “really excited” that Ofwat has given the firm the go ahead for “plans that will see us investing over £78m on pilot schemes to ultimately achieve bathing quality standard water on stretches of the river Leam in Warwickshire and river Teme in Shropshire, with £65m of that going on measures that will also directly improve river quality in the river Avon between Coventry and Stratford upon Avon”.
They added: “This project will see us making significant improvements across our sewer network, as well as working with the plethora of other sectors and activities – such as agriculture – who need to minimise their impact on rivers.”
The project, which the firm says is still in its very early stages, will “eventually see us installing a network of river quality monitors and developing a real-time app that can be used by communities, allowing us to arm them with all the relevant information needed when it comes to using stretches of the rivers Avon, Leam and Teme”. It also plans to work with and collate data from other agencies such as the Environment Agency and the Rivers Trust to provide relevant and timely river quality information, the spokesperson said.
Last month, Sir James Bevan, the chief executive of the Environment Agency, admitted he would be “cautious” about swimming in an English river due to the high levels of pollution.
A spokesperson for the Environment Agency said that making sure rivers are clean is an “absolute priority” and that it is “working urgently to reduce the environmental impacts of all sources of pollution – including those from agricultural practices and road run-off”.
They added: “There are specific regulations in place in England to protect our rivers. We are aware there is more work to do and we are hard at work alongside our key catchment partners to implement a range of interventions to tackle the sources of pollution in our rivers.”