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Prevention is Better than Cure: Filter Drinking Water to Remove Disease Causing Microbial Cysts

All living things require water for their survival. Humans are no exception. We all require a supply of clean, unpolluted drinking water, as it is essential for our health and well being. However, drinking water very often contains a myriad of contaminants, many of which can pose serious health risks to human health, therefore proper water treatment is essential to remove pollutants.

Cryptosporidium and Giardia, both of which the berkey water filters filter out from the water, are two parasites commonly found in drinking water that can cause disease. Cryptosporidium and Giardia have developed life strategies that enable them to survive long intervals in the environment between hosts. When they exit the host they enter a dormant phase, where they are protected by a tough exterior shell. During this dormant phase of their life cycle they a known as microbial cysts. Microbial cysts are resistant to chemical treatment processes, and often mechanical filtering is required to remove them from drinking water. When microbial cysts are ingested, the gastric juices in the intestine break down the hard exterior coating, releasing the parasites, which quickly become active and rapidly multiply.

Cryptosporidiosis_01 How infection can take place

Infection with Cryptosporidium and Giardia can occur through exposure to infected animals, or to contact with the feces of infected animals. Very often the cysts are carried into waterways by runoff, where a person can become infected by ingesting contaminated drinking water, or by ingesting water that contains the cysts while swimming or boating.

Cryptosporidium and Giardia infection are common in the developed world, but are even more prevalent in third world countries, where water treatment infrastructure and water quality measures are lacking.

Life Cycle of Cryptosporidium and Giardia

After the Cryptosporidium or Giardia cysts are swallowed, they enter the digestive tract, where digestive juices break down the exterior shell, releasing the parasites. Before being excreted from the body, the parasites once again form a protective outer shell to aid their survival outside the host. Once they are excreted from the host they can be transmitted to another victim by person-to-person contact or through unhygienic or unsanitary conditions, where the cycle is repeated in the next host.

Cryptosporidium under the microscope. Cryptosporidium under the microscope.

Symptoms of Disease from Microbial Cysts

Ingestion of Cryptosporidium or Giardia cysts, and consequent infection by these parasites, causes the diseases cryptosporidiosis and giardiasis respectively. Symptoms of these diseases include diarrhea, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting, dehydration, weight loss, and fever. These symptoms usually last for a week or two, but can last for as long as a month, and often recur. People suffering from immune deficiencies, including AIDS, cancer, and transplant patients that are being treated with medication that may compromise the immune system, are most at risk of infection. Giardiasis may also effect the rate of growth and development in children, and can cause malnutrition.

Preventing Infection

• In order prevent infection from these water borne parasites, the following precautionary measures are advised:
• Practice good hygiene: wash hands before eating or preparing meals; after using the restroom, changing a babies diaper, or assisting a child or infirm person on the toilet; and after touching animals, or handling animal waste.
• Try to avoid ingesting water that may potentially be contaminated. Don't swallow water when swimming in public swimming pools. Don't drink untreated water from rivers, streams or lakes, no matter how pure it may look, as microbial cysts may be washed into theses systems from the faeces of infected animals. Always take precautionary measures when travelling, particularly in undeveloped regions – boil water, filter water, or buy bottled water to be on the safe side.
• Home drinking water filters are recommended to filter out tap water that may be contaminated with Cryptosporidium and/or Giardia. When choosing a filter look for one that will purify the water of these bacteria like the Berkey does.

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