Why is drinking water quality important to people living with cancer?
People living with cancer are generally immuno-compromised, either as a result of their disease or because of treatments like chemotherapy or radiation. That puts them at greater risk when exposed to water-borne pathogens, like Cryptosporidium, because their weakened immune systems are less able to fight infection, resulting in more serious outcomes.
What is Cryptosporidium?
Cryptosporidium is an intestinal parasite that is able to withstand harsh environmental conditions because it’s protected by a hard shell. Once ingested in contaminated food or water, the organism emerges from that shell and infects the lining of the intestines. Symptoms of the disease called cryptosporidiosis include cramping, diarrhea, nausea, and vomiting. The symptoms start anywhere from two to 10 days after infection and, in an otherwise healthy person, can last several weeks. For those whose immune systems are already compromised, the infection can be more persistent and more severe or even life-threating.
How does Cryptosporidium get into drinking water?
The parasite gets into surface water sources like rivers, lakes, and streams through the discharge of sewage waters and run-off of manure or simply from animals, cattle in particular, defecating in or near water sources. Groundwater can easily be contaminated when flooding occurs and surface waters are flushed into aquifers or individual wells. Then drinking the water becomes a risk unless it is adequately treated.
What drinking water treatments are effective against Cryptosporidium?
Unfortunately, chlorination, one of the most commonly used approaches to water disinfection, is not effective against Cryptosporidium because chlorine is unable to penetrate that protective shell. UV light, however, easily penetrates the oocyst and is a very effective means of disinfection. It’s possible for oocysts to be filtered out of drinking water, but owing to their small size it is critical to ensure the filter selected can remove particles of one micrometer or less in diameter. And, of course, boiling water before drinking is a tried and true disinfection method, even with Cryptosporidium.
Water treatment professionals can recommend an appropriate approach to help you protect family or guests who are living with cancer or who are otherwise immuno-compromised. And, you can always check with a third-party certification body like NSF (nsf.org) for more information. #worldcancerday
Established over a decade ago, World Cancer Day aims to promote research for curing and preventing cancer, keeping it in the hearts and minds of people around the world.