Sat, Aug 13, 2016 - Page 16 News List

Wimbledon poisoning claim probed

AP, LONDON

Gabriella Taylor plays a shot at Wimbledon in London last month.

Photo: AP

Detectives were investigating allegations that a British player at the Wimbledon tennis tournament was poisoned, after she fell ill with a bacterial infection that can be spread through rat urine, London’s Metropolitan Police said on Thursday.

Gabriella Taylor was playing in Wimbledon’s junior tournament when she became sick on July 6 and had to drop out.

Her family says she was diagnosed with leptospirosis, a bacterial infection spread by animals.

Her mother, Milena Taylor, told the Daily Telegraph newspaper that the 18-year-old athlete was hospitalized in intensive care and that “the bacteria the infection team found is so rare in Britain that we feel this could not have been an accident.”

She said Gabrielle “was staying in a completely healthy environment” during the tournament and would not likely have been accidentally exposed to the bacteria.

London’s Metropolitan Police said detectives were investigating “an allegation of poisoning with intent to endanger life” or cause bodily harm.

It said the incident was “alleged to have taken place at an address in Wimbledon” between July 1 and July 10.

The force said no one had been arrested and police are awaiting medical information about what, if any, poison was involved.

Britain’s National Health Service says leptospirosis is uncommon in the UK, with fewer than 40 cases reported per year. It can be caught by touching soil or water contaminated with the urine of infected animals, including cattle, pigs, dogs and particularly rats.

It usually causes mild flu-like symptoms, but in some cases can lead to organ failure and internal bleeding.

Scientists cast doubt on suggestions that Taylor was deliberately infected with the bug.

Kimon Andreas Karatzas, assistant professor of food microbiology at the University of Reading, said it might be difficult to track down the source of the infection because leptospirosis has a long incubation period. It takes between five and 14 days, and in rare cases up to a month, before symptoms appear.

And he said the rare bacterium was not an obvious candidate as a poison.

“There are other bacteria that are much easier to find,” such as salmonella, often found in raw chicken,” Karatzas said.

“Trying to find leptospirosis, it’s a much more difficult task,” Karatzas said.

David Mabey, professor of communicable diseases at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said that leptospirosis “is not a bug you can grow in the lab” and is most often caught by swimming in contaminated water.

“If you were wanting to poison someone, this would be an extremely roundabout way of going about it,” Mabey said. “You’d have to catch a rat, make sure it was infected and get it to pee in her bathwater or something.”

Taylor on Wednesday tweeted a picture of herself on a tennis court with the caption: “So happy to be back on court!! Taking it step by step!”

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