When it’s time to test your well water, a typical test will include nitrates and bacteria. When testing for bacteria, what they’re really looking for is coliforms, which are referred to as indicator organisms. And, while it’s true that these microbes won’t necessarily make you ill, finding them in your well water indicates that disease-causing microbes or pathogens, like E. coli, could make their way into your water supply. But as it turns out, E. coli isn’t even the #1 cause of disease outbreaks in private water systems. According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), that honor belongs to Hepatitis A which, by the way, is actually a virus and not a type of bacteria at all. Here’s a look at all the offending microbes that top the CDC list.
“Bugs” in well water
- Hepatitis A
Hepatitis A is the name of the liver infection caused by the virus by the same name. Hepatitis A is very contagious and is easily passed through person-to-person contact or by consuming contaminated food or water. Symptoms include jaundice, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and fever. Not fun. The only good news is that a Hep A infection does not cause chronic or on-going health issues.
Huh? Giardia is not a type of bacteria either! Giardia is actually a protozoan. When ingested, like when you drink contaminated water, it causes diarrhea, stomach cramps, and nausea that can last for up to two weeks or more. Learn more about how Giardia can get into well water here.
- Campylobacter and E. coli (tie)
Oh, here come the bacteria. Finally! Both of these nasty bugs will cause – you guessed it - diarrhea (sometimes bloody), stomach cramps, and more.
Campylobacter . like many other pathogens, can be found in water supplies that have been contaminated with the poop of an infected person or animal. Unfortunately, that can happen quite easily in the event of a septic system failure, polluted storm water, or runoff from farms. The risk of contamination is higher after flooding.
There are a number of strains of E. coli. Some can be harmless, but others are absolutely nasty and an infection can lead to kidney failure and even death.
Shigella is another type of bacteria and, like the others, will cause diarrhea (sometimes bloody), nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and fever. It will usually resolve in five to seven days, but who needs to go through that?
- Cryptosporidium and Salmonella (tie)
Here we have another protozoan parasite often known just as Crypto, and a bacterium, Salmonella, that you likely associate with eggs or undercooked meat. These bugs can get nasty.
Cryptosporidium is protected by an outer shell (cyst) that allows it to survive in the environment and in well water (The same is true of Giardia actually). That shell also makes it very resistant to chlorine disinfection. Once ingested, it will cause infection with symptoms including watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, fever, and weight loss. For people with weakened immune systems, it can be much more serious, becoming chronic and could even cause death.
If you’re knocked down by Salmonella, you are in for four-seven days of diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. Recovery is usually complete, but it may be several months before your bowel habits are entirely normal again. A small number of people with Salmonella with develop joint pain called reactive arthritis that can last months or years and even could develop into chronic arthritis.
So remember, a well water test is only looking for indicator organisms and is only detecting certain bacteria that are inexpensive and quick to detect. A positive result could mean any of these other bacteria, viruses, or protozoan parasites can work their way into your water, and you definitely don’t want that. Learn how to protect your family 24/7 withultraviolet disinfection. It covers all the "bugs": viruses, protozoan cysts, and bacteria!