Gabriella Taylor: Experts cast doubt on tennis 'poisoning'

Gabriella Taylor in hospital Image copyright Milena Taylor
Image caption Gabriella Taylor spent four days in the intensive care unit of Southampton General Hospital

Experts have cast doubts on claims a British tennis player was deliberately poisoned at Wimbledon last month.

Gabriella Taylor, 18, spent four days in intensive care after doctors diagnosed her with a rare strain of leptospirosis, known as Weil's disease.

Police are investigating whether she was deliberately poisoned.

But Dr Anna Checkley, from the Hospital for Tropical Diseases, said she had "never heard of it being used as a poisoning agent".

Ms Taylor, from Southampton, was admitted to hospital after becoming unwell during her girls' quarter-final match, last month.

She was later diagnosed with a rare strain of leptospirosis - a bacteria which can be transmitted through rat urine.

'Pretty unusual'

Her mother, Milena Taylor, told BBC Sport it was "impossible" for her to have simply become ill and her daughter was "still not 100%".

She said the teenager had been staying "in a completely healthy environment".

Police are investigating an allegation of poisoning with the "intent to endanger life" or cause grievous bodily harm.

Dr Checkley told BBC News people in the UK usually contract the infection after coming into contact with contaminated water.

She added: "Leptospirosis is pretty unusual in this country.

"We see between 50 and 100 cases a year, usually in sewage workers or people whose work brings them into contact either with contaminated water or animals, so farm workers, abattoir workers and so on."

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Media captionProfessor Roger Pickup tells Radio 4's PM how you could catch Weil's disease from a coke can

The majority of people who have leptospirosis have only "a mild illness and get better from it", she said, adding that "between one in 10 and one in 20" go on to develop Weil's disease - a more severe form of the illness.

That can lead to organ failure and life-threatening bleeding, she said.

'A bit laughable'

Prof Elizabeth Wellington, an environmental microbiologist at the University of Warwick, said it would require a high level of expertise to intentionally grow the bacteria.

She said claims it could be used to deliberately poison someone were "a bit laughable".

"If she has the disease then it's a case of bad luck, she has most likely become infected by water," Prof Wellington added.

Scotland Yard said police in the London Borough of Merton, which covers Wimbledon, were investigating an allegation of poisoning.

A spokesman said: "The allegation was received by officers on August 5, with the incident alleged to have taken place at an address in Wimbledon between July 1 and 10. The victim was taken ill on July 6."

No arrests have been made.

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