Water Purification and Survival: Part 2

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

Karambit Knife

Types of Water Contaminants

Emergency Preparedness Water Purification
Boil Water

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 Emergency Water Purification Against Cryptosporidiosisfor 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.

Emergency Preparedness Water Purification against Giardia
Hi I'm Giardia. What's your name?

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[1].  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. Emergency Water Purification Against Toxic 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.

Survival Precautions

Remember that surface water, especially muddy and/or stagnate (even snow that has been Emergency Water Purification Methodspresent 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.

Also read: 6 Dangerous “Urban Survival” Myths About Water

“The Future Belongs to Those Who Prepare”

Photos by:
Michael S Hawkins
Markel Chernenkoff

30 thoughts on “Water Purification and Survival: Part 2”

  1. As a young lieutenant in Viet Nam I thought the alcohol in scotch would kill any germs, bugs or critters that were present in ice. I was wrong. When I got stateside I weighed 108 pounds. I'm six foot, two inches tall. If you absolutely, positively have got to lose 55 pounds in four weeks – amoebic dysentery is the way to go. It isn't comfortable but it is effective. I ALWAYS make sure I have clean water to drink. I never want to do that again.

  2. I have heard statistics from places like Haiti that more people die from bad water than usually die from the natural disaster that causes the disruption. I have a Big Berkey just for this kind of stuff. Water is vital after a disaster and we need to have something in place to take care of our families when it comes to water. Great post.

  3. Would it be possible to have a list of some of the better filters and purifiers. I know there is a difference in the two and would it be optimal to have both. I would like to know some of the better ones for both categories, also ones that are good but won't break the bank.

  4. Water filtration in a survival situation is quite simple. Even works well at home when there's an issue with water repair when pipes break with our illustrious water departments. Plus this simple process works well in your survival kit. Look at how your water filter is if you posses a fish tank. Cotton, Charcoal, and that's about it. But here we're going to take it one step further. But first I ask you to excuse any typos. If your prior service you should know what sand bags are. Not the crappy burlap, but the nylon ones. Get a few at a surplus store. You'll want to tie it up on a tripod with the opening up and at an angle. Build a fire. (not under it). save the crude charcoal chunks left over. First you want to break some down once they coal into small peaces. On top of that add some clean, fine sand, on top of that cotton ( or cat tail down, or something similar if in a survival situation). Place under neath the sand bag a bucket, pot, or other clean container. Then utilize a pump with filter which you can find from places like ranger joe's.com or any camping store. But they're only good for about 200 ltrs. First we get the big stuff with the sand bag set up, then the small stuff with a filtered pump. Pump the water into a pot (pump after basic filter because pump filters aren't cheap) and boil. Let cool. Camel back has an excellent inline filter for about 20.00 bucks. Once the water has been filtered, and boiled, add to your camel back or bladder with an attached filter. Problem solved.

  5. There's a relatively new purification filter out of Great Britain called the Lifesaver filter. It's portable, and claims to filter down to 15 nanometers, excluding virtually all bacteria and viruses. Their web claims are impressive, so I bought one for emergencies. I would like to hear it evaluated in this series.

  6. We use an under the sink drinking water filter at home that uses UV light, a 1 micron filter, and carbon. Even if the city water goes bad it will still work as long as there is water pressure and I can supply power. Specs at: http://indoor-air-purifiers.com/water-living-filt
    I think it was Joel that did a good article about coffee filters as pre-filtering for field water filters… Extends life of disposable filters. Despite the various forms of additives filtration is my choice as the drops and pills taste like crap and boiling takes a lot of fuel and time. The worst additive in my opinion is iodine. It’s one of those flavors that just lingers for a long time. Awful for cooking too as it doesn’t cook out. Disposable filters are generally cheaper. A good reusable ceramic filter costs more but can be used over and over as you can wash the filters. I tested a bunch of water filters for the military and we choose the small, hand pumped, light, washable ceramic filter type. We carried one per team. None of us ever got sick from the water.

  7. Another important thing to remember when talking water purification and bacteria/protozoa is that if you are going to boil it to make it safe, you need to bring the water to a boil as fast as possible. The reason for this is that some of these organisms can create a protective coating that makes them MUCH harder to kill. When they are in the protective shell they are called a spore, but it can take much, much more heat/cold to kill them if they go into this state. If the water is brought to a boil within a few minutes the organisms will not have enough time to create the protective coating. If they go into the spore state and you ingest them, they will revert to their normal state after a short time at the temperature your body maintains and could cause an infection.

  8. With the tablets use 1 per canteen or liter for clear water 2 for cloudy water. Let sit for at least 10 minutes… An hour for more questionable water. Basically it acts as a poison killing organisms in the water. Don't forget to rinse the cap and threads with the treated water too. You can also use liquid iodine… For 10% iodine solution add 4 drops per canteen. I like items with multiple uses and carry iodine in my first aid kit. A good video for this is at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TD8VLLtKnjc

  9. Silver solution might be a better choice for those who don't like the taste of the iodine or other tablets.
    Even with the filters, tablets, solutions, ect. I still boil water just to be safe… I would rather spend some time building a fire/lighting my dual fuel stove than squattin' behind a tree for hours!

  10. My company, L3 Communications C2S2 has just released a portable water purification system that will generate clean, filtered, tasty water upwards of 1,000 gallons per day. It uses all the filters mentioned here and more: reverse osmosis, UV, sediment and charcoal filters. It is currently being field tested by various branches of the military. Please check it out and let me know if you would like to try it. http://www.l3pc.com/water/index.html

  11. All the gear is great, but what would you do to filter your water if you didn't have your kit? In no way should this replace a filter but if you just don't have the filter when needed you can find a bend in the river and dig down in the sand, usually 5-10 feet from the waters edge and wait for the water to seep in thru the sand (sandbars are great also and the sandy areas are usually soft enough to dig with your hands, a branch, or other improvised e-tool) It will be sandy, so you will have to let it sit but natural can filter also. I'd boil the water afterwards, if possible, but if not, I'll take a "little filtration over no filtration". Just something I was taught growing up.

    • Someone correct me if I'm wrong here but in the above situation, where you have NO gear and you WILL die if you don't drink the water, and you don't even have a clear bottle for natural UV sanitation, you will do best to stay near the source of water. I believe that many waterborne pathogens will either kill you, or you will develop a tolerance. If that is the case, once you have contracted GI symptoms from the water, keep drinking it because as before you WILL die if you don't drink it, and you MIGHT die if you continue to drink it.

      • I do not believe in a survival situation that you will develop natural resistance to any organism while it is in the process of ravaging your intestines having overwhelmed your immune system. A little bit at at time, over time, would accomplish this, but continuing to drink the water that gave you diarrhea and vomiting will lead to rapid dehydration and metabolic alkalosis. You'll probably die quicker this way if that is any consolation. (Former Navy, currently a doctor).

  12. BTW, if you live in an area with very high UV-ray measurings, and you’ve lost everything, there’s a simple method to improve water quality at least a bit – put it in a translucent bottle and let it sit under the sun for a few hours. Also, this method can help with some heavy metals, as they’ll eventually come down to the bottom through gravity; of course, don’t pour the water, or stir it too much! A straw or some tube could help here.
    If you need to melt snow or ice, but have no fuel, you can use dark-colored rocks to warm a container above 0ºC/40ºF. After noon, they’re usually warm, even if only a little. Naturally, unless you have a spectacular day it could take days to melt a bunch of snow, so a myriad containers will come in handy. Saving some of the liquid water for your next batch of snow can also be tremendously useful, as it’ll help a lot with melting the frozen stuff.

  13. Boil everything your even considering drinking . I have a 5″ , 2 stack straight side tiffin box in by pack . they are stainless steel , weigh little and a great item to keep unfinished food on the move . Most of the time I use the first stack can for boiling water in , but anything will do . Boil to be safe .

  14. When i was in the British army they issued something called a "Millbank bag" looked like a huge canvas sock. Youd fill it with water from a river or somewhere and once teh water had dropped to a line on the side youd put your water bottle under the point. It would filter out alot of the bigger pollutants, floating bits ect. Then you could use steri-tabs to sterilise the water.

  15. I have a water bottle I got at sears for a fairly cheap price(30$). you just pour the water through the filter built in and it's supposed to be safe to drink after a short period of time. Never had the chance to try it out yet. They say it works well enough that you can drink water that was next to a corpse, however, I would never try that. A few large humanitarian aid groups like the LDS church distribute these bottles to natural disaster areas. It is Seychelle brand and can be purchased from the LDS church for $16.50 or for $22.00 with an extra filter at http://store.lds.org/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/Aj… also at the seychelle website there are many other filtering items. They have filtering straws, water bags, canteens, water pumps, stainless steel water bottles, and many others.

  16. Hello!, i just bought a Katadyn Micro filter system and it is supposed to filter even micro organism. Appreciate if anybody can give me feedback of its effectiveness.

  17. One thing not mentioned here that can prevent inadvertent infection is to be vigilant about the way you actually handle your water. Microbiologists are trained to be cognizant of the possibility of unintended contamination during their procedures. For instance, if you wash your water bottle in contaminated river water and then dry it to put purified water in it, the bottle will taint your clean water. Always pay attention to where your contaminated and clean water are. If you pour contaminated water into a purifier and it drizzles down the side of the purifier and drips from the clean nozzle, you're SOL.

  18. I do quite a bit of camping throughout the year. Mostly winter camping though.

    So I'll stick with what I know best.

    I just finished reading the article on this website called 6 Dangerous “Urban Survival” Myths About Water.

    In this article it says to not eat snow, basically you will die from eating snow, HAHAHA
    I eat snow
    All the time
    I'm still alive

    I'll tell you why.
    If you have the pleasure of being in the wilderness during the winter months, (I'm not talking about southern winters here, strictly northern winters), you will have plenty of snow to keep yourself hydrated.

    One of the main hydration problems in the winter is your source of hydration will usually freeze.
    Because of this, I carry very little water with me during the day. If I am thirsty, I will ball up some snow and have myself an h2o snack.

    I look for clean "powdery" snow. The reason I can eat snow and not suffer from hypothermia is because I don't stop moving. During the day I am constantly on the move. Either from point A to point B, or maybe cutting firewood or even building a shelter. The point here is, Movement = Heat.

    If your body's core temperature is normal or above normal due to physical activity, there is no need to be afraid of eating snow. If you are just standing around and doing nothing at all I would advise against eating snow then because your core temperature will be below normal. Get It?

    Movement = Heat

    Now when it comes time to snuggle up in your bag, this is when it is best to go ahead and spend some fuel to melt some snow for water. Make sure you get it nice and hot, then poor off into your canteen. Take this canteen to bed with you! The stored energy in the bottle will help keep you warmer throughout the night. In the morning, you will already have some nice water for your AM caffeine fix. 🙂

  19. anyone have info on using potassium permanganate to purify water. We homeschool so we have a few bottles and were told it could be used to purify water in an emergency.

  20. pass into the history books as just another despot.”[41] While the Venezuelan people are likely to make this decision in the coming 2012 elections, there is still time, still room, for Chávez to save the day by moderating his rule and tempering his diction.

  21. I agree that water is very essential to each and everyone. If we drink dirty or unsterilized water, then it may lead to a lot of diseases such as the Hepatitis A. Aside from that, we can also get Hepatitis B and C through unsafe sex and sharing of unsterile needles. In either way, we have to be careful. Let us get ourselves an STD Test for us to be sure. Prevention is always better than cure.


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