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Quench That Thirst-Safely

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Canada's crystal-clear lakes and streams hide bugs that make you sick

Canada's crystal-clear lakes and streams hide bugs that make you sick. The usual suspects are the Cryptosporidium parasite, E. coli bacteria and the highly contagious single-celled protozoa Giardia. Lesser-known foes include Shigella bacteria, the Norwalk virus and Entamoeba histolytica.

Ingesting Cryptosporidium oocytes from contaminated water can be fatal for the elderly and those with compromised immune systems. The parasite reproduces quickly in the human intestinal tract and the resulting diarrhea can be severely dehydrating.

Boil drinking water for at least a minute to kill both Giardia and Cryptosporidium oocytes they're resistant to chlorine and are so small they often pass through municipal water treatment filters.

Shigella bacteria show up in places with poor hygiene and cause bloody diarrhea. Like with most water-borne bugs, those with compromised immune systems, the young and the elderly are hardest hit. Healthy adults usually recover in a few months.

Norwalk virus outbreaks cause a few days of diarrhea. Some of those infected also experience vomiting and fever.

Entamoeba histolytica is a single-celled parasite that's spread through contaminated water (for example from septic tanks close to wells) and poor hygiene. It can cause chronic symptoms like diarrhea, gas, cramps and abdominal pain.

Hydrate or Die!

Your body needs plenty of water for optimum health. Health Canada warns that we're drinking only one-and-a-half litres of water a day (including coffee and tea!). But we're advised to drink two litres and more if we drink dehydrating beverages like coffee, tea and alcohol or engage in outdoor summer activities. If you feel thirsty, you're probably already dehydrated. But what do you do when you're worried about the water coming out of your tap? Here are some options.

Magnetic water filters like the one from Teldon can filter out impurities, bacteria, heavy metals and chlorine. Magnetized water reduces acidity and helps keep your body's acid/alkaline levels balanced. Magnetization also helps reduce digestive and intestinal problems and improves the taste of water.

Simple carbon filters that many of us have in the fridge also get rid of impurities and chlorine for better-tasting water. Make sure you change the filter regularly so it doesn't become contaminated.

Distillation boils and recondenses water. The result is water that's free of heavy metals and bacteria and lacking organic minerals. Reverse osmosis water is free of pesticides and metals. It forces water through fine screens.

Oil of oregano has been shown to destroy listeria, E. coli and salmonella bacteria. It works by oxidizing bacteria, similar to chlorine but more quickly. Dr Cass Ingram, writer and herb researcher, suggests boiling suspicious water but also recommends a few drops of oregano oil stirred into a glass of water as a preventive measure. This is particularly useful if you're unsure of the water quality when travelling. At a recent lecture to 300 in Walkerton, Ont., 25 audience members who were regular users of oregano said they didn't get sick during the outbreak. Only the Mediterranean variety of regular dried oregano has the antiseptic power of the oil.

Message in a Bottle

The largest market for bottled water is Europe where people have been drinking it for nearly 200 years. The estimated European consumption is 27.7 billion litres per year; the annual per capita consumption is estimated at 93.7 litres.

The next largest market is the United States with an estimated total consumption of 11 billion litres. Asia is the third largest market, Latin America ranks fourth and Canada follows in a strong fifth position.

Spring Water

Spring water is potable water that comes from any underground source but not from a public community water supply. The spring water collected and bottled is considered natural water and must have all the same properties and be of the same composition and quality as the water underground. Normally, spring water is expected to contain fewer than 500 parts per million (ppm) of total dissolved solids (minerals).

Mineral Water

Mineral water respects the same definition as spring water except that it is normally expected to contain more than 500 ppm of dissolved solids.

Purified Water

Purified water is bottled water that has been produced by distillation, deionization [a] or reverse osmosis. The water can come from a spring or a public community water supply. These waters have no added minerals.

Carbonated Bottled Water

Carbonated bottled water contains natural or added carbonation. Soda water, seltzer water and tonic water are considered soft drinks.

Source: Canadian Bottled Water Association.

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