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E. Coli Contamination of Drinking Water

E. coli, short for Escherichia coli, is a type of fecal coliform bacteria commonly found in the intestines of animals and humans. If ingested, this bacteria can result in serious sickness and even death. When E. coli contaminates your drinking water, one should either avoid drinking it completely, or render it safe by boiling the water or purifying it with a high quality water filter.

During rainfalls, snow melts, or other types of precipitation, E. coli may be washed into creeks, rivers, streams, lakes, or ground water. When these waters are used as sources of drinking water and the water is not adequately treated, E. coli may be inadvertently ingested.

Most of the hundreds of strains of E. coli are harmless and live in the intestines of healthy humans and animals. However E. coli O157:H7 is an exception; as it produces a powerful toxin. Evidence but not proof of ingestion includes severe bloody diarrhea, abdominal cramps, or non-bloody diarrhea. Frequently, a fever will not be one of the symptoms.

In 2%-7% of those infected with E. coli O157:H7, the bacterium will also cause hemolytic uremic syndrome. This is evident when the red blood cells are destroyed and the kidneys fail. This condition is a life threatening and may require blood transfusions and kidney dialysis as treatments.

Symptoms usually appear within two to four days, but could take longer. With this strain of E. coli, antibiotics should be avoided as they can some exacerbate kidney problems. Recovery within five to ten days usually follows without antibiotics. Any person who has sudden bloody diarrhea should get their stool tested for E. coli O157:H7 immediately. Children under five, the elderly, and those with weak immune systems are the most vulnerable.

You might ask, “Is my drinking water vulnerable to E. coli O157:H7?” Public water is by law constantly monitored for all bacterial contamination. However, those using private sources and wells for water should be cautious, especially when farm animals are present, as these sources typically do not have routine E. Coli monitoring. The addition of chlorine, or treatment of water with ultra-violet light or ozone will kill or inactivate this strain of E. coli.

If you have determined that your drinking water is contaminated, then one of the the safest procedures is to boil your water. In addition, there are high quality water purifiers on the market that will also remove E. Coli.  One of these water purifiers is the Berkey water filter. With the ability to remove E. coli bacteria to a log 7 degree, or 99.99999%, the Berkey water filter will render contaminated drinking water safe to drink. Purchasing a Berkey water purifier is a relatively inexpensive way to provide peace of mind for you and your family.

5 thoughts on “E. Coli Contamination of Drinking Water”

  • Faith Foster

    I had diarrhea for a week straight and I think it may have been from e-coli. It was the worst experience of my life.

  • lisa jacobson

    Hi, Is it the black filters or the white filters that remove the e coli?

  • Casey

    I have had my Berkey water tested with both white and black filters and e coli was still present in both cases. I am filtering irrigation well water and am not sure what's going on.

    I should say the test does not reveal how much is there, just whether there is any at all. I guess it could be a tiny trace amount. Any thoughts are welcome.

    • Dan DeBaun

      Hi Casey -

      Is this an e.coli reading, or a coliform reading? If it's an total coliform reading, then this is an indicator of other possible bacteria, but does not definitely mean there is e-coli. This is an important distinction. A specific test for this would need to be performed for e-coli to know this contamination level for sure. We have sampling guidelines for coliform testing as it is very easy to contaminate water samples and give false positive readings. We've dealt with this in the past with customers, and after closely controlling the sampling process from beginning to end, coliforms were not found, after being found initially. Guidelines here:

      With that being said, if e-coli is being tested specifically after filtration, then you would want to perform a red food coloring test on your filters to determine which filter is not performing to specs. Details here:

      PF-2's are removed for all of this testing.


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