Choosing a good water source or having a water purification system before you drink “Unknown Water” could mean the difference between life and death. We cannot stress enough how important it is to take the time and use the proper methods and tools to make sure your drinking is safe.
This article is part 2 in a series of posts.
Read: Part 1 – Protect Your Body’s Water
Types of Water Contaminants
A contaminated water supply left untreated and used for hydration can lead to serious health consequences. If your water is already in short supply, contracting a waterborne disease or illness can be irreparably disastrous, especially in a situation where medical assistance and help are not readily available. There are many things that can harm you in a contaminated water supply and hopefully after reading this, you will think twice before taking that first sip.
Coliform Bacteria: This is not a single strain of bacteria but a grouping which includes E. Coli. These types of bacteria can lead to dysentery but may not effect all individuals the same depending on their immunity and the strain of bacteria. Symptoms may include gastroenteritis, bloody stool, fever and vomiting.
Treatment: Dysentery usually clears up after a few days and no treatment is needed however it’s important to manage fluid intake (from clean drinking sources or IV replacement in cases of extreme dehydration) and replace what was lost through diarrhea and vomiting. If you suspect dysentery is caused by amoebic agents (such as through coliform bacteria mentioned above) you may need antibiotic medication to kick it out of your body if it doesn’t go away on its own.
Hepatitis A: This is a very small enteric virus that can lead to an inflamed liver, jaundice, weakness, anorexia, fever and lassitude. In milder cases it will take a week or two of rest to recover and in more severe cases the victim can face liver damage and death (usually among the elderly). Definitely not things you would want to be experiencing in a survival situation. You will probably have plenty of other issues you’ll be dealing with and getting sidelined by this virus will definitely throw monkey wrench in your SHTF survival plan.
Treatment: There is no specific treatment for Hepatitus A, although sleep is recommended during the acute onset phase. Also it’s best to avoid anything that requires heavy labor on the part of the liver to process, such as alcohol, Tylenol (acetaminophen) and fatty foods. A majority of cases recover fully after 3-6 months. You can get a vaccination that will protect you from this disease and it typically starts working 4 weeks after injection. You’ll also need a 6-12 month booster to provide long term protection.
Cryptosporidium: This protozoan parasite causes cryptosporidiosis. It usually takes 2-4 days for symptoms to manifest but when they do, the victim will likely experience some or all of the following flu-like symptoms: loss of appetite, diarrhea, headache, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, and a fever. This can be especially dangerous for those with compromised immune systems, infants or the elderly. In 1993 over 400,000 people Milwaukee, Wisconsin (including my wife) became ill from ingesting cryptosporidium bacteria from their public drinking supply (see story).
Treatment: There is no specific treatment for crypto. Healthy individuals with a normal immune system usually get better on their own. It is recommended to drink plenty of fluids and get extra rest. Pregnant women and children stand a higher chance of complication related to dehydration as a result of fluid loss. Rapid fluid loss in Infants can be life-threatening.
Giardia: This little guy is another protozoan parasite that has lead to a few large outbreaks in the U.S.. Giardia are parasitic and attach to the intestines of humans and animals. They cause a disease called giardaisis resulting in symptoms such as upset stomach, diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, weight loss, and general gastrointestinal distress. Symptoms typically last about a week, however as with everything there are exceptions and some people may experience more serious symptoms and over a longer period of time.
Treatment: The CDC states, “Several drugs can be used to treat Giardia infection. Effective treatments include metronidazole, tinidazole, and nitazoxanide. Alternatives to these medications include paromomycin, quinacrine, and furazolidone. Some of these drugs may not be routinely available in the United States. Different factors may shape how effective a drug regimen will be, including medical history, nutritional status, and condition of the immune system[3-5]. Therefore, it is important to discuss treatment options with a health care provider.”
Helminths: These parasitic worms grow and multiply in wet soil and sewage. They enter the body either by burrowing through your skin or taking a ride down your throat when you gulp that nice, long awaited swig of untreated water. They can cause an array of problems depending on the species. They are generally not a current problem in the U.S. but can be in developing countries.
Treatment: This can be complicated due to the large variety of parasitic worms (around 20 known varieties) in various parts of the world. Drug treatments vary depending on method of infection (through skin contact or ingestion), the type of helminth and the individual being treated. The goal of treatment is to either stun them or kill them so they pass out of the body. Some naturally occurring medications include: tobacco, wormwood, clove, and plumeria.
Chemicals: This includes lead, petroleum, fertilizers, insecticides and industrial waste. Symptoms can vary significantly and may manifest quickly (such as from chemical agents present in insecticides which are often slightly modified nerve agents) or slowly depending on amount and concentration of the chemical (even small amounts of lead over time can cause chronic problems as a quick google search will reveal).
Treatment: The first step is to minimize further exposure and prevent secondary contamination to others (depending on concentration and substance). If possible identify the source of chemical contamination in order to help aid in treatment UNLESS it will cause further exposure (see step one). Depending on the substance, there can be a number of cascading complications. This subject could take pages to cover so suffice it to say that ensuring your water source is free from contaminants, will not only enable you and your loved ones to stay healthy, it may also save your lives.
Remember that surface water, especially muddy and/or stagnate (even snow that has been present for a period of time), will be contaminated with disease carrying organisms and is extremely dangerous to drink unless purified. Don’t underestimate these risks. Disease inducing organisms contained in impure water is one of the greatest enemies of survival. If your only source of water is impure or you suspect it to be impure, do not drink ANY of it until it has been filtered and purified.
“The Future Belongs to Those Who Prepare”