Why Poop in Your Water is Bad

By now you have gotten the email, text or phone call about the fecal matter indicator being positive in the ground water for the Ridgewood water supply. Why is this a big deal? Intuitively, you don’t want to drink poop, animal, human or other, and would certainly avoid it if you could. But, how bad is it? The dangerous bacteria found in feces is E-coli. There are many different strains of E-coli, some worse than others. Most often, people get sick from contaminated meat and food, when E-coli is introduced in the manufacturing, distribution process.

Not everyone who eats or drinks E-coli will become ill. Young people, the elderly and people who are immunocompromised are at greatest risk.

Symptoms of E-coli infection usually start about 3-4 days after infection (so right when everyone is leaving for spring break) and are:
• bloody diarrhea
• stomach cramps
• nausea and vomiting

In the most severe cases, E-coli infection can cause anemia and kidney failure, but more often, it clears on its own within a week. If you think you may have diarrhea from E-coli, do not take anti-diarrheal medication. You want to allow the digestive process to eliminate the bacteria from your system. It is not contagious person to person unless you are handling an infected person’s feces and somehow get it into your mouth. The chlorine used in water treatment kills this bacteria, so hopefully things will be under control quickly.

IN THE MEANTIME…
• Do not drink the water.

• After washing your hands, use an antibacterial hand sanitizer, or use pre-boiled water to wash hands.

• Can you shower? Yes. Just ensure you don’t get any water into your mouth and consider using a hand sanitizer after or washing your hands in pre-boiled water. This will prevent you from accidentally contaminating your hands and then touching food or your mouth. If you have small children who cannot be trusted to avoid swallowing water when bathing, skip it tonight if you can, or consider a sponge bath with pre-boiled water..
• Use bottled water or water that has been boiled adequately for brushing your teeth.

Remember that stomach symptoms can be caused by many things, so don’t assume E-coli and ignore a potentially more dangerous problem.

How to boil water to ensure elimination of E-coli:
Bring your water to a rolling boil for at least a minute. Higher altitudes need to boil for 3 minutes, so probably not a bad idea to let it boil for at least two minutes. Let it cool and store it in a sanitized container with a tight lid.

I know, YUCK! We will get through it. Don’t be paranoid, just be proactive.


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Author: Karen Latimer

Karen is a Family Physician, Wellness Coach, and founder of Tips From Town. She is passionate about sharing her medical expertise, her coaching techniques and her parenting experience to encourage happier and healthier lives.

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