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Make Sure Water is Safe to Drink When Camping and Hiking

August 2, 2017 by HealthyFamilies BC

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Make Sure Water is Safe to Drink When Camping and Hiking

Summers are wonderful for exploring BC’s beautiful wilderness. With a little knowledge and some preparation, you can make sure the water you drink during your outdoorsy vacation will be safe and clean.

What can happen if I drink water from lakes, rivers or ponds?

Beaver fever: A crazy beaver fad? Nope! A beaver with a high temperature? Wrong again!

Beaver fever is a common name for the water-borne infection caused by ingesting Giardia lamblia, a type of protozoa found in many natural sources of untreated water, such as lakes, rivers and ponds. Protozoa are just one type of itsy-bitsy (not a technical term) disease-causing micro-organisms that you may be exposed to if you drink water from an untreated source this summer. Bacteria and viruses are other examples of disease-causing micro-organisms you might encounter if you drink water from an unsafe source.

How sick will drinking untreated water make me?

Want your summer vacation to be known as that-time-I-drank-untreated-creek-water-and-almost-died-from-liquid-poo? Probably not.

Symptoms vary depending on what micro-organism you drank, the amount, and the strength of your immune system. Generally, the symptoms can include: diarrhea, cramping, gas (foul smelling i.e. rotten egg smell), vomiting, and muscle pain. In extreme cases, death can result, particularly in those with weakened immune systems.

How do I know if water is safe to drink on my vacation?

Although water in streams, lakes, cabins, rural cottages, or campgrounds may appear to be pristine, if the water is untreated or the water system has not been properly maintained, drinking the water may put you at risk for water-borne infections (like beaver fever). Besides the risk to your health, it could make for an awkward first trip with your in-laws to the family cabin!

Contact the campground or cabin owner ahead of time to ask where the drinking water comes from. The answer you are looking for is that it comes from a water supplier permitted by the local health authority. If not, then there is no one overseeing whether the water has been treated well enough.Do Not Drink - Untreated Water

At the campsite, watch for signs posted that indicate water is not okay to drink. If there is a sign of a tap with a line through it or the water pipes are purple, the water is not safe to drink.

If water is untreated, be aware of other ways you could come into contact with it (e.g. accidentally breathing in or swallowing infected water). For example, be careful when showering and when nearby sprinkler systems.

If you are not confident that the water is safe to drink, bring bottled water or make sure to disinfect the water yourself. Learn how to disinfect drinking water.

Author’s Bio: Today’s blog post was written by the Health Protection Branch at the Ministry of Health. This dedicated team is responsible for developing policy and leading provincial programs in drinking water and other environmental health programs such as: waste water, swimming pools, food safety, air quality, personal services, and other emerging issues that affect healthy community environments.

Related blogs

Where Does Tap Water Come From?
Hiking: Your Route to Adventure and Health

Recommended resources

HealthLinkBC: Disinfecting Drinking Water
Protect Your Baby from Contaminated Water

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