Bacteria, viruses and parasites lurk even in Wyoming's pristine mountain streams

By The Pulse Sep 4, 2014

Bighorn Mountain Lake looks pristine enough to drink, but looks can be deceiving.

Bighorn Mountain Lake looks pristine enough to drink, but looks can be deceiving.

Submitted by Rocky Mountain Infectious Diseases

When the weather holds, September is a great month to explore Wyoming’s beautiful mountains, majestic wildlife and pristine mountain streams. But remember: No matter how clean the water in a stream looks, it can still contain harmful viruses, bacteria and parasites such as giardia, cryptosporidium, e. coli, and rotovirus. These pathogens can cause anything from a minor nuisance to severe, debilitating pain.

If you’re in the backcountry, help can be hard to come by. That’s why it’s very important to make sure your drinking water is safe. The most common mistake people make when treating water has to do with not understanding the difference between filtration and purification. This can leave water only partially safe for consumption.

Filtration
A carbon filter can remove some water impurities, but not viruses which are so small they can slip right through the filter.

A carbon filter can remove some water impurities, but not viruses which are so small they can slip right through the filter.

Filtration involves using a physical barrier to remove impurities in the water, like a carbon filter. The effectiveness of the filter is dependent on the the smallest size of particle it can catch (measured in microns). You need a filter that gets down into fractional microns, so you’ll be filtering out most bacteria, parasites, metals, and other dangerous impurities.

There are lots of options out there for water filtration. Whatever you use, make sure to follow all directions for use, storage, cleaning, and maintenance. If you don’t use it or maintain it properly, it’s not going to do its job effectively.

Filtration's biggest weakness is that it does nothing to protect you against viruses, which are so small they can slip right through the filter.

Purification
Purification kills viruses and bacteria, but does not remove metals or particulates.

Purification kills viruses and bacteria, but does not remove metals or particulates.

Purification is the sterilization of water. The most common purification method for backpackers is chemical. Adding iodine or chlorine tablets to water is a very effective way to kill viruses and bacteria, and it doesn't add much weight to your pack. Boiling and UV radiation are other popular methods to purify water, and they don’t affect taste like chemical methods.

Purification doesn’t remove anything from the water, it only sterilizes it. Treated water can still contain metals and particulates. It’s also important to make sure you give the chemicals, heat or UV radiation enough time to sterilize the water, and you use enough for the volume of water you are purifying.

Which is best?

Because neither method eliminates everything, it’s best to do both to ensure that you’re drinking the safest possible water.

Rocky Mountain Infectious Diseases (RMID), 1450 E. A St. in Casper,  offers a full-breadth of outpatient infectious disease care and is looking to expand its outreach clinics. It has three full-time physicians, a half-time physician and a full-time nurse practitioner. For more information, appointments or referrals, call RMID at (307) 234-8700. Follow them on Facebook here

 

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