The cold, clear water found in mountain streams and lakes may look
appealing but often contains Giardia lamblia, the
parasite that causes
giardiasis. On short hikes, you may be able to carry
from home enough water to drink. But when you are camping and backpacking, you
often need to use other water sources. Water from pumps in campgrounds is
usually safe, but if a sign tells you that the water is not safe or if you have
any doubts, treat the water before you use it.
To avoid infection with Giardia lamblia and
other parasites, use one of these purification methods:
Boil the water before
using it for drinking, cooking, washing hands or dishes, or brushing your
teeth. Bring the water to a rolling boil for 1 minute. If you are at an
elevation of 6,562 ft (2,000 m)
or higher, boil the water for 3 minutes. Even small amounts of water can
Add a chemical disinfectant to
the water. Depending on the water temperature and how much sediment is present,
you may need to let the water settle for several hours before you use it. You
can find products to disinfect water in drugstores or camping supply stores. If
the water is very cold or cloudy, increase the settling time before using it.
Examples of chemical disinfectants are:
5 tablets of halazone for 1 qt (1 L) of water. Treat for 30 minutes before using the water.
1 Tbsp (15 mL) of crystalline iodine for 1 qt (1 L) of water. Treat for
30 minutes before using the water.
0.1 tsp (0.5 mL) (about 5 drops from an
eyedropper) of 2% tincture of iodine for 1 qt (1 L) of water. Treat for 70 minutes
to 8 hours before using the water.
2 to 4 drops (from an
eyedropper) of household chlorine bleach for 1 qt (1 L) of water. Treat for 30
minutes before using the water. Iodine is considered to work better than
chlorine against giardia.
Filter the water using a commercial filter
specially designed for treating water. These filters range in price from $40 to
$200 or more. The price generally depends on the quality of the filter and how
fast it pumps water. Look for a filter that has these features,
regardless of price:
Filter has an absolute pore size of 1
micrometer or less (will remove Giardia and some other
Labeling specifically states that it protects against
Treat the water with a portable ultraviolet light
that is designed to purify water. These devices can affect bacteria, viruses,
and parasites so they can no longer reproduce. But these devices work best on
water that has already been filtered and is clear.
ByHealthwise Staff Primary Medical ReviewerE. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine Specialist Medical ReviewerW. David Colby IV, MSc, MD, FRCPC - Infectious Disease