Viruses in Drinking Water
Viruses, the smallest of drinking water contaminants and the most difficult to detect, are responsible for approximately 50% of groundwater related diseases worldwide. Each year, it is estimated that four billion people fall victim to waterborne illnesses from viruses and 1.8 million, mostly children, die from the effects of these illnesses.
Viruses tend to be resistant to chlorination and other common forms of water filtration and have become the focus of new legislation enacted by the Environmental Protection Agency. As of January 8th, 2007, the new Ground Water Rule under the Safe Drinking Water Act specifically targets viruses for removal from our drinking water.
How do they get into Drinking Water?
Viruses occur naturally in the water, soil, and air, and our bodies are constantly working to keep these creatures in check. When we do become ill from viruses, we generally attribute our discomfort to the �flu� as the symptoms are very similar. The most common way that viruses enter our drinking water is from contact with fecal waste from humans and livestock. Especially heavy rainfall will overwhelm older public water systems and cause raw sewage to overflow into ground water as well as runoff from livestock feedlots.
Common Viral Contaminants
These viruses are the most common culprits for viral drinking water contamination and their effects vary from mild intestinal discomfort to serious and life-threatening illnesses.
Hepatitis A is an infectious liver disease caused by the hepatovirus Hepatitis A virus. Adults are more vulnerable than children to the acute symptoms which include jaundice, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, fever, cramps, and loss of appetite.
Polio, short for poliomyelitis, is caused by several different polioviruses and attacks the nerve cells that control muscle movement. Largely eradicated in the West, there are still pockets of polio in Egypt, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Niger, Nigeria, and India. In approximately 93% of the cases of infection, this disease will produce no symptoms at all. In the other 4-8% of cases, the disease comes in three forms:
Norwalk Virus is the most common name for a class of viruses called noroviruses. This class of viruses causes gastroenteritis, or inflammation of the stomach and large and small intestines. The symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, abdominal cramps, headache, and chills.
Rotavirus is the most common cause of severe diarrhea in children worldwide. Each year in the U.S., it is responsible for the hospitalization of over 55,000 children. In other part of the world, it is estimated to cause the deaths of 600,000 children.
In the U.S. and other industrialized nations, the most common way to become infected is by consuming food and beverages that were handled by an infected restaurant worker who did not wash their hands thoroughly after using the bathroom. In the initial and most contagious stage of the disease, an infected person will show no symptoms of illness at all which greatly enhances the risk of passing it on. In 2003, Hepatitis A made headlines across the U.S. as thousands of people became ill from eating raw and undercooked green onions.
Abortive polio which causes sore throat, diarrhea, fever, and upper respiratory infection.
Non-paralytic polio is a more serious form often associated with aseptic meningitis which causes headache, persistent pain in the neck, back, and limb muscles, vomiting, abdominal pain, and lethargy.
Paralytic polio is quite rare but the most severe form of this illness as the virus attacks the central nervous system. As the virus spreads to the brain, spinal cord, and limbs, sufferers experience paralysis of the muscles that may last for the rest of their lives even after recovering from the initial symptoms.
People most often are infected with noroviruses by consuming food and beverages that were handled by an infected person who did not wash their hands after using the bathroom. This virus can only multiply in the intestinal tracts of infected humans and other mammals. Outbreaks most commonly occur on cruise ships, schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and other places where people come into close contact with each other and are served food from buffets and cafeterias. Deaths are very rare, but an estimated 181,000 people in the U.S. become infected with noroviruses each year.
The main cause for infection is via the oral-fecal route from improper sanitation practices by food handlers and symptoms include fever, vomiting, severe diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. Other cases have occurred from the consumption of raw vegetables that were irrigated with virus-infected water and the consumption of raw shellfish. Death most often occurs from dehydration as a child�s body cannot retain enough fluids to function properly. Recent outbreaks in Russia and in the aboriginal peoples of Australia sent thousands to the hospitals and caused health officials to issue alerts to help contain the contagion.
Although traditional water filtration methods have been somewhat ineffective for removing viruses from drinking water, there are emerging technologies that have shown tremendous promise. Researchers at the University of Delaware have developed a water filtration method that uses reactive elemental iron which eliminates 99.999 % of not only viruses, but also bacteria and other pathogens.
The simplest way that you can prevent viral contamination in your home is by instructing your family to practice strict hand washing procedures after using the bathroom. This easy and very effective habit will significantly reduce your chances of becoming ill and spreading the virus to others.