Did you get that special gift for Christmas? The pony? The BB gun? The train set? How about a water filter?
The days of dipping your canteen into the closest stream for a refreshing drink are pretty much gone in today’s world. The most common health risk on hiking trips is infection by pathogens such as bacteria, viruses and protozoa. Contaminated water can cause serious illness or even death. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has estimated that nearly 90 percent of the world’s fresh water is contaminated. Giadiasis is a concern in Yosemite. It is caused through infection of the intestine by the single-celled parasite, Giardia lamblia. Another harmful parasite called Cryptosporidium may also be in the water.
If ingested, these parasites live and reproduce in human or animal intestines. Once in the intestines, they attach to the inside of the intestinal wall, where they can disrupt the normal function of the intestines and compete for nutrients. They can survive for a long time in soil or water until they are injested by another host. Giardia is spread by contact with the fecal matter of deer, rodents, bears, birds and people. The risk is that you may end up with a range of discomforts including severe diarrhea. Don’t assume that because you find a “natural stream,” you are safe.. Some people think that if you dip into a “moving water” source, it’s okay to drink. Wrong. Don’t do it! The Giardia protozoa can cause one of the more common types of dysentery and you may not feel the effect until about ten days after your trip. You may not even associate your illness with your hike. I had a friend who was sick for a very long time. The doctors traced the possible cause to a day that he spent hiking when he cooled himself off under a waterfall and swallowed some of the spray! The symptoms to watch out for include: stomach pain, diarrhea, nausea, malaise, gas and weight loss. If you suffer from these, get treatment. However, the parasite may not totally go away and symptoms could erupt years later. Prevention methods such as filtration, UV light, boiling, and chemical tablets are recommended. While the odds of getting sick are low, it’s better to be on the cautious side.
It’s also a good idea to clean your hands regularly, especially after using the toilet facilities and before eating. Don’t touch your face in order to avoid spreading germs. If there’s no potable water on the trail, this is best accomplished by using antibacterial wipes or gels. These are available in travel sizes and will greatly reduce the chance of illness.
Unrelated thought worth quoting: “This is the end. Beautiful friend. This is the end my only friend, the end – of our elaborate plans, the end. Of everything that stands, the end. No safety or surprise, the end. I’ll never look into your eyes…again.” – The Doors
*MrHalfDome™ – Rick Deutsch – www.HikeHalfDome.com