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Drinking Water and Weak Immune Systems

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Contaminated water could be harmful to anyone, even more so for those with weakened immune systems. In fact, some organisms that could show up in water may be harmless to most, but deadly to others. A weakened immune system can be a result of having an organ transplant, having HIV or AIDS or from undergoing chemotherapy. Even with patients with less common congenital or acquired immune system dysfunction. A weaker immune system means a higher likelihood of contracting disease from waterborne contaminants.

immune systemCryptosporidiosis, a diarrhea disease known better as "crypto", is one ailment caused by a microscopic parasite that can have a greater effect on a weakened immune system. In fact, over the past 20 years, it has become one of the more common waterborne illnesses. Cryptosporidium parvum lives in the intestines of humans and animals and is passed in their stool. This disease is communicable and can be passed by water, sex, sharing food and even touching farm animals. The parasite is protected by an outer shell, which allows it to survive outside the body for long periods of time and-- here's the kicker-- makes it very resistant to chlorine disinfection. The parasite is found in every region of the United States and throughout the world in drinking and recreational water. The illness can last a few days to a week in a normal person, but for someone with AIDS, it can be fatal. Ironically, with something you catch from water, water is a huge cure for this. With diarrhea, people become very dehydrated.

Drinking clean, pure water is a way to get back to health. However, once inflicted, the disease can recur. Only point of use filters that remove particles one micrometer or less in diameter can be used to remove cryptosporidium. The best prevention is to practice safe water practices. Most importantly, this means clean drinking water. The Center for Disease Control states on their website that all reverse osmosis filters protect the best against crypto. Some other filters may work, but they must say "absolute 1 micron" to be sure. Private water supplies such as well water systems are not regulated by the USEPA and are generally not treated or monitored. In these situations well water should always be tested regularly to maintain a safe water source.

Symptoms of previously healthy patients with cryptosporidiosis:

  • Watery, non-bloody diarrhea (can last anywhere from 7 to 20 days)
  • Nausea
  • Abdominal cramping
  • Loss of appetite
  • Headache
  • Fever
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