Whether you’re taking a sip of tap water or flying into a lake via rope swing, bacteria is probably the last thing on your mind. Like it or not, bacterial contact is inevitable. Although washing hands and sanitizing food surfaces works, bacterial contact is going to occur and will most likely happen when coming in contact with water. Although all water does have some form of bacteria in it, it is likely that the type or the level of the type will not harm you. However, there are some that can cause the human body many problems such as vomiting, diarrhea, hypervolemia or hypovolemic shock, and in some cases even death. The most common forms of harmful bacteria are coliform bacteria, E. Coli bacteria, and types of Salmonella.
Coliform Bacteria is simply waste. Water systems can be contaminated by human waste by faulty septic systems, cracked pipelines that leak sewage, storm run-off, mammal and/or bird waste directly into water systems and so on. Fecal coliform in itself isn’t incredibly harmful, but the pathogenic risk carried with the bacteria is great. Diseases such as cholera, typhoid fever, and Hepatitis A are all transmitted through fecal coliform. Such diseases create incredible health risks. Cholera cause diarrheal disease, which can lead to extreme dehydration (the cause of hypervolemia). Diarrheal diseases cause over 1 million deaths a year.
Escherichia coli (or E. coli for short) can cause E. coli infection. Water that is contaminated with E.coli, to the average adult, mainly just causes diarrhea. Small children, the elderly, and people with immunodeficiency problems should be careful because E. coli infection could cause death if the infection becomes prolonged. In extreme cases, hypovolemic shock can occur (Hypovolemic shock is caused by extreme dehydration and can kill within 24 hours). E. coli also resides in the human colon and is a form of coliform.
Salmonella is another type coliform closely related to the E. coli bacteria that causes many different health problems. There are many different strains of salmonella that can cause the disease Salmonellosis. Salmonellosis is generally a food borne illness, but can also be contracted through contaminated drinking water. It causes vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal cramps. Ingestion of the strain Salmonella typhi can cause typhoid fever. Typhoid fever causes prolonged fever, delirium, liver damage, and can cause death.
All in all, the risk of coming in contact with dangerous bacteria is present. Fecal coliform, E. coli, and Salmonella can cause extensive health problems. Thorough washing and sanitizing is a great way to prevent ingestion of these bacterium, but it is possible to ingest them through water. The key to success is knowledge and being able to recognize the symptoms early enough for treatment, but fear not, the water plant does a pretty good job of keeping you safe.