My brother just got back from a surfing trip to Indonesia. I asked him about his vacation and heard little about the ocean’s waves and a lot about his waves of nausea. Like millions of travelers he fell victim to contaminated drinking water.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), contaminated drinking water is one of the leading sources of health problems for travelers, and can cause anything from mild gastrointestinal distress to serious bacterial diseases. The most common cause of water-borne illness is bacteria, such as E. coli, cholera and salmonella, but chemical pollutants can also cause illness.
Experts at the CDC say that travelers face an elevated risk of exposure to contaminated drinking water in Mexico, Central America, most of Africa and Asia, and the Middle East. You’ll find moderate levels of risk in Eastern Europe, Russia, South Africa, Argentina, Chile and some parts of the Caribbean (including Haiti and the Dominican Republic). Drinking water is generally safest in developed areas of the world like the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Northern and Western Europe, many parts of the Caribbean, and Japan.
If you are planning a trip abroad here are some ways to keep yourself safe and hydrated.
1. Drink bottled water, but only if it is in a sealed and tamper-proof container. Ask locals to recommend a reliable brand.
2. More often than not you will be safe drinking tea, coffee, canned soda, juice, beer, wine and other alcoholic beverages.
3. Higher temperatures will kill many parasites. Drinking from a hot water bottle is slightly safer that drinking untreated, cold water.
4. Use bottled, boiled or purified water to brush your teeth, or to wash your dentures. You don’t need to consume contaminated water to risk becoming ill.
5. Freezing water does not kill bacteria. Remember that the next time you want your drink “on the rocks.” Ice cubes present the same problems that tap water does.
6. Boiling water is generally the most effective way to remove parasite contamination. Maintain a rolling boil for at least one minute (longer at higher altitudes, where the boiling point may be lower).
7. Avoid food that may have been rinsed in contaminated water, such as vegetables in a salad or fresh fruit.
My brother is still unsure of exactly where he was exposed to the contaminated water, but he says he hopes no one will ever have to go through what he did, especially on vacation.