Last week we talked about the organism Giardia and the effect it can have on your digestive system… very Bad to say the least. Some of you have written to me asking if you do get it, how you can treat it. If you remember, up to half the population can be silent carriers of this organism and would need no treatment. Another portion of the infected have minor symptoms and, sooner or later, will seek treatment and be treated correctly, usually if they give a good history and tell of drinking possibly infected water. The Final group are those that have major symptoms and with progressive weakness, dehydration and of course the explosive diarrhea; they will end up in the hospital. Once again, a good history will uncover the fact that the patient might have ingested infected water, and they will be treated quickly and easily. But, as far as I know, there is no over the counter, quick and easy treatment. So, unless you are one of the lucky ones that are carriers, you will need to see your doctor or local hospital!
Today I would like to discuss the organism called E. Coli (Escherichia coli). Many people know that this organism can cause diarrhea and other symptoms that often are taken for “food poisoning” and have heard that restaurants and some foods have been “tainted” by this organism. What most people do not know is that everyone carries this organism around in their small intestine already! In fact, most of us are “infected” in the first month of our lives and, if given a strong enough antibiotic to kill it in our system, we will feel ill and have diarrhea without it until we are infected again. It passes from our intestinal track in our feces and, if this waste is not treated properly and good sanitation used, it can be picked up by
drinking water or touching food items. Just remember that your own E. coli is good, and it even helps you produce vitamin K!
The problem comes from when we come in contact with another person’s “strain” of E. coli. You see this organism changes or mutates very easily from host to host. It also can be carried by some animals, and again, the more it changes to live with these other carriers, the more it creates problems when “You” ingest it. Some strains have been found to cause major problems with persons who are very young or elderly or immunocompromised. Most of the effects noted are, of course, diarrhea, minor to severe (travelers trots or whatever you want to call it!), but it also can cause kidney failure, bloody stool, and peritonitis. Also, some strains have developed that seem to lead to problems for everyone ( human that is) that comes in contact with it and are thought to be carried only by animals. Animals that have been found to carry E. coli are pigs, sheep, goats, cattle, dogs, and horses.
Once again, what can you do to make your water safe? This one is easy! It is killed by the over-the-counter “water purification tablets,” the boy scout trick of a few drops of either iodine or chlorox mixed into the water. It is also killed by the “Light” or ionization purifiers. But, as this organism is about 2 microns in size, the Filters will trap it. So, once again, it seems that a good water filter is a good idea when out camping!
Treatment is usually easy. If you do have prolonged diarrhea leading to dehydration, bloody stools, severe weakness or back pain, go to your family doctor or local hospital and tell them of your ingestion of possible contaminated water. They will treat you, usually mostly for dehydration. If you only have minor symptoms, your body will soon come to accept the new strain and, after a few days, you will be back to normal, in fact you may not notice the “infection” sometimes!
Next week we wrap up this discussion of water bore illness. Until then, take care and may your water always be pure!
Your Obedient Servant,
Gary Smith, Jr.