Many people have turned away from tap water because they fear that it is contaminated with, among many other things, virus-causing bacteria.
When we think about scores of people suffering from viral infections caused by contaminated drinking water, we often think of third-world nations. We never think about such a devastating event occurring in the United States – but it did happen, and it can happen again.
Once you become familiar with a tiny, but insidious, little fellow that goes by the name of cryptosporidium, you might begin to think in terms of water borne illness as it pertains to the U.S., and continue to stock up on the bottled water.
What is Cryptosporidium?
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), cryptosporidium is a microscopic parasite that causes a nasty disease, commonly known to health professionals as cryptosporidiosis or simply, “crypto.”
Once a human, pet, or farm animal has been infected, the parasite can set up shop, and thrive inside the warm, wet intestines of its new host.
The most common symptom of crypto is watery diarrhea, some people infected by the parasite show no further symptoms, but other symptoms could include vomiting, nausea, fever, stomach cramps, and dehydration.
Crypto can be fatal to people who have Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS), cancer, transplant patients, and any illness that affects the body’s immune system.
Outbreak – Past and Future
The last official outbreak of cryptosporidiosis occurred nearly twenty years ago – but it was horrifically severe.
In Milwaukee in 1993, the parasite was responsible for the largest documented waterborne illness outbreak in United States history. More than 400,000 people were infected, and damage cost estimates exceed $54 million.
The Milwaukee Crypto Outbreak raised awareness, but another outbreak can occur at any time. Traditionally, chlorine has been used to help rid the drinking water supply of the tiny little monster, but other concerns exist.
Cryptosporidium is notoriously resistant to chlorine, so higher concentrations have been adopted. However, high amounts of chlorine are linked to cancer and birth defects, so it seems to be six of one and half a dozen of the other…
Treatment and Prevention
There are no established drugs to fight the parasite once it takes up residence in a healthy living host; it simply disappears in approximately thirty days. Treatment is usually limited to anti-diarrheal drugs and dehydration prevention methods or rehydration.
With the realistic risk of another crypto outbreak, and the dangers of chlorine, it seems that bottled water is probably one of the best defenses against this particular tap water nightmare.
Another good defense is to boil tap water for at least five minutes before drinking it. This little handy trick will kill Cryptosporidium, and many other dirty little creatures that might in inhabit out drinking water.
– sources –
Centers for Disease Control page on Cryptosporidium
Cryptosporidium Outbreak in Milwaukee @ US Library of Medicine National Institutes of Health