Clinic Stories

Dilution is the Solution

In the 1960s, a survey of long distance backpackers asked how they treated their water and how often they had gastrointestinal problems. The results showed that hikers who did not treat their water had less than half the GI problems of hikers who treated their water with boiling, chlorine or iodine. The authors thought the results were a fluke.

Later studies, however, have confirmed that if you are drinking back country water you will have fewer problems if you do not treat your water. There are several suggestions why this may be so. One speculates that hikers drinking untreated water develop immunity to organisms. But the most widely accepted reason is that hikers who do not treat their water use more water to wash their hands, dishes and utensils and stay better hydrated. Studies have shown that flowing back country water rarely is contaminated and the most likely source of microbes is from poor sanitation and inadequate hygiene. Therefore the title, dilution is the solution.

That being said, there are now better and easier methods of purifying water including filters and ultraviolet lights that are inserted into water bottles. Also, some areas have water with parasites or heavy metals from mining that pose unique threats. The best strategy seems to be a combination of adequate hand washing, thorough cleaning of utensils, knowing the area you are visiting, staying hydrated, selecting fast flowing water and treating drinking water in a manner that is quick and effective.

Unfortunately dogs are not so selective in their water choices and have an affinity for stagnant dirty water. If we could train them to drink only from streams they would be better off.

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