Bacteria in Drinking Water

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Bacteria in Drinking Water and Human Health

You may not realize it, but millions of unseen creatures live and thrive in the water you drink. It’s bacteria. While some bacteria are beneficial and innocuous, others cause disease and illness. Did you know that water systems deteriorate over time, that older pipes can harbor germs, and that your water may contain harmful pathogens?

Most people believe that public water is always free of bacteria. After all, public water systems are intended to provide water that is safe to drink and use for daily activities such as bathing and brushing one’s teeth. Bacteria and other contaminants, on the other hand, can occasionally infect domestic water from public sources. When this occurs, those who use public water will most likely receive a boil water advisory informing them that the water is unsafe to drink.

Homeowners who use well water frequently overlook the need of keeping their water bacteria-free. However, bacteria frequently infiltrate houses through well water that has not been properly treated and maintained. Fortunately, ensuring that your water is safe to drink isn’t a complex procedure. Here’s a look at some of the most common microorganisms found in drinking water and how to detect them.

Bacteria Contamination of Drinking Water

Contamination of domestic water by potentially hazardous bacteria and other microbes is a regular problem. Water contaminated with microorganisms has been associated to short-term gastrointestinal diseases and illnesses such as gastro-enteritis, giardiasis, typhoid, dysentery, cholera, and hepatitis. Microorganisms can enter a water supply from a variety of sources, including sewage, animal waste, or dead and rotting animals.

State and federal governments mandate public water systems to supply biologically safe water. The safety of a privately owned, individual water supply, such as a backyard well, is, on the other hand, in the hands of the owner.

While cities and towns treat or filter their water, this does not guarantee that your drinking water is free of these hazardous germs. According to the World Health Organization, at least 2 billion people worldwide consume feces-contaminated water, and over 500,000 people die from diarrhea-related causes each year. Health officials encourage adopting proper hygiene practices while handling food and water, such as washing hands and food preparation surfaces, to help keep you and your family safe and drinking clean water. If you have any reservations, try drinking bottled water. It is also critical to have your water checked for hazardous bacteria on a periodic basis by a microbial testing facility.

Which Bacteria Can Be Found in Drinking Water?
Of course, we want our water to stream clear from our faucets at home, but there may be more to your drinking water than meets the eye. What are some of the most common bacteria found in drinking water?

Bacteria are common single-celled creatures that are found in lakes, rivers, and streams. The majority of these bacteria are safe to people; but, some bacteria, some of which are often found in the intestinal tracts of warm-blooded animals, have the potential to cause sickness and disease in humans. A high concentration of these harmless bacteria frequently indicates a high concentration of hazardous bacteria as well as other disease-causing organisms such as protozoans and viruses.

Counting the number of bacteria colonies that develop on a prepared medium is one method of obtaining bacterium counts.
What are Heterotrophic Bacteria?
Heterotrophic bacteria can be found in all water sources. To survive and multiply, these bacteria rely on organic molecules found in their surroundings, such as sugar. The heterotrophic plate count is used to test drinking water for this type of bacteria. While a larger quantity of heterotrophic bacteria may suggest that an environment is favorable for the growth of other types of bacteria, heterotrophic bacteria are not normally considered harmful.

If water testing reveals significant levels of heterotrophic bacteria, additional testing for other bacteria, such as E. coli, is expected. If you are only concerned about heterotrophic bacteria, normal water treatment methods can minimize or remove this type of bacteria.
What are Coliform Bacteria?
Coliform bacteria are a type of bacteria that can be found in soil, plants, and the digestive tracts of humans and animals. Although not all bacteria in this group are dangerous if present in the water supply, a subgroup, fecal coliforms, can cause sickness. Drinking water contaminated with the bacteria Escherichia coli (E. coli), a fecal coliform, can cause intestinal irritation. Symptoms of an E. coli infection include cramps, diarrhea, vomiting, and fever. Antibiotics are usually required to treat this infection.

Coliform bacteria are frequently referred to as “indicator organisms” since they indicate the presence of potentially pathogenic bacteria in water. The presence of coliform bacteria in water does not ensure that ingesting it will result in disease. Rather, their presence implies the presence of a contaminated channel between a bacterial source (surface water, septic system, animal waste, etc.) and the water supply. This mechanism may be used by pathogenic microorganisms to reach the water supply.
What specific tests should you do for bacteria in drinking water?
Testing is the only way to determine what types of bacteria are present in the water supply and at what amounts. If your water tests positive for coliform bacteria, it may signal an issue with your water system and the possibility of E. coli growth. If you have a bacterial treatment system, a component of it may need to be repaired or maintained. If you do not have a treatment system, you should consider treating your water to eliminate all possibly hazardous microorganisms.

Specific coliform bacteria types may be checked for, particularly if a total coliform bacteria test is positive. Fecal coliform bacteria and Escherichia coli, or E. coli, are two subgroups of coliform bacteria. Because fecal coliform bacteria are unique to the intestinal tracts of warm-blooded animals, including humans, a more precise test for sewage or animal waste contamination is required.  Positive E. coli results are far more hazardous than coliform bacteria alone since they suggest that human or animal waste is entering the water source. There are hundreds of E. coli strains. Although the vast majority of strains are safe and thrive in the intestines of healthy humans and animals, a few strains can create a potent toxin that can cause serious disease and death.

What are the Health Effects of Drinking Bacteria  Contaminated Water?
As previously stated, drinking water tainted with coliform bacteria does not necessarily result in sickness. The vast majority of these microorganisms are not harmful to humans. If disease-causing bacteria are present, the most typical symptoms are gastrointestinal disturbance and general flu-like symptoms such as fever, stomach cramps, and diarrhea. Symptoms are especially common among youngsters and elderly members of the household. Minor gastrointestinal discomfort is generally the most common symptom; nevertheless, microorganisms that produce minor sickness in some people can cause serious diseases or death in others, especially in the elderly, very young, or those whose immune systems have been compromised.

In some circumstances, household inhabitants develop immunity to waterborne germs found in their drinking water. Visitors to the residence who have not developed immunity may feel unwell after drinking the water in this instance. Because the symptoms of coliform bacteria in drinking water are common to many human illnesses, determining that water is the source of the problem without testing the water is difficult.
How Common Are Coliform Bacteria in Water?
Coliform bacteria are one of the most common sources of water contamination in private water systems in Pennsylvania and around the country. A 2006 examination of 450 private wells discovered coliform bacteria in around 35% of the wells and E. coli bacteria in approximately 15% of the wells.

Because bacteria are naturally filtered out by soil and rock when surface water infiltrates into the ground, coliform bacteria are far more common in springs and shallow wells than in deeper wells. Deeper wells (more than 100 feet) could still be contaminated by coliform bacteria if they are incorrectly designed, allowing surface water to flow straight into deep groundwater, or if surrounding land uses are contaminating deep groundwater.
How can you tell if your water is contaminated with bacteria?
Bacteria in water cannot be seen, tasted, or smelled, and many health-related symptoms may not manifest themselves immediately. As a result, the only reliable technique to detect if water is tainted is through a laboratory test. It might be costly to test a water source for a specific disease-causing bacterium. Managing and cultivating disease germs necessitates specialized training and equipment. Water supplies are instead typically examined for the presence of coliform bacteria. These bacteria are always present in human and animal digestive systems and can be detected in their excrement. Coliform bacteria can be found in soil and plant material. The vast majority of these bacteria do not cause disease. They are just a sign that the water supply has become contaminated and that disease-causing microorganisms may be present.

The coliform bacteria test is generally affordable and simple to perform. Total coliform is the industry standard test. The federal government’s total coliform goal for public drinking water is zero. Water samples containing any coliform germs are typically labeled as “total coliform positive.”

Federal regulations now mandate that “total coliform positive” public drinking water be tested with a fecal conform test. Only human and animal waste contains fecal coliform bacteria. The presence of fecal coliform bacteria in any concentration is undesirable.

When should you test for bacteria in your water?
The US Department of Health and Human Services recommends testing private water supplies for total coliform at least once a year. If you are thinking about purchasing a home with a private water supply, always get a total coliform bacteria test. Testing is also advised if any of the following circumstances exist:

There is a baby in the household;
A new well is built;
There is flooding near the well or spring;
Any person or animal becomes ill from a suspected waterborne disease; or
The water supply system on a spring or well has been disassembled for repairs to components such as the well itself, treatment devices, pressure tank, pump, or pipe lines.
What do you do if your water is contaminated with bacteria?
First and foremost, don’t panic! You’ve undoubtedly been drinking this water for a while with no harmful effects and may continue to do so. While you and your family may have gained some resilience to the hazardous bacteria in the water, there is no guarantee that you will not suffer negative consequences in the future as a result of ongoing exposure. Furthermore, guests who do not have this immunity may have more immediate problems in your home.

Knowing that your water source has been contaminated with bacteria should motivate you to take action. To keep a potential problem from worsening, you must identify the possible source(s) of pollution and take corrective measures to cleanse the polluted water.
How do you get rid of bacteria in water?
Household water from surface water supplies such as streams, ponds, and cisterns is especially sensitive to pollution and should, in most situations, be continually disinfected, as explained later in this article. Additional treatment, such as sedimentation, coagulation, and filtering, may be required to provide a safe water supply.
Septic systems, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, are a primary cause of contamination in an underground water supply (well or spring). Inappropriate drain field placement, as well as poor septic system design, construction, and maintenance, along with incorrect well and spring box construction, can lead to domestic water contamination. To lessen the likelihood of contamination, it is suggested that your septic tank be pumped out every three to five years.

Preventing direct entry of surface water into a well or spring is an important option to consider in order to preserve the supply from bacterial contamination. It is important to realize that the groundwater supply itself may not be contaminated; rather, an incorrectly designed well or spring may be funneling toxins from or near the land surface down into the groundwater.

The well casing should reach 12 inches or more above the ground’s surface, and the ground should slope away from the well to prevent surface water from gathering around the wellhead. The casing’s top should have a tight-fitting sanitary well cap. Additional surface drainage protection should be provided by sealing the casing with cement grout to the depth required to protect the well from pollution.

Because they are typically located near surface water drainage channels, springs are especially vulnerable to bacterial contamination. A suitably protected underground spring is created, and the water is routed to a sealed spring box. The water should never be exposed to the air at the surface.

Other precautions include: 1) keeping all animals away from the well or spring region; and 2) keeping the plumbing system clean. When doing plumbing or pump maintenance, the entire water system should be disinfected with chlorine. Simply removing the pump from the well, placing it on the grass to be serviced, then returning it to the well is enough to pollute the water supply with bacteria.
What are the Best Ways to Treat Your Water for Bacteria?
Microorganisms in the water source can be dangerous. If you have your water tested and the findings show bacteria, viruses, or protozoa contamination, you have a few alternatives for making the water safe to drink.
Can I Boil Water to Remove Bacteria?
Boiling is one of the most efficient methods of making water potable. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises bringing water to a boiling point for one minute. Water should be boiled for three minutes for persons who reside at elevations higher than 6,562 feet. Microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, and protozoans can be effectively killed by boiling water. Microorganisms are heat sensitive, and bacteria are usually inactivated the quickest when boiling. After that, the water can be safely kept, cooled, and consumed.

Consider installing a water distillation system, which boils water to eliminate pollutants. This type of technology boils water and gathers it in vapor form. Many pollutants, including protozoa, viruses, bacteria, and a variety of chemicals, can be removed with this method.
Does Filtrating Water to Remove Bacteria?
While boiling kills germs, rendering them incapable of infecting when consumed, filtration physically removes pollutants from drinking water. Filtration removes microorganisms as well as other pollutants such as chemicals and heavy metals. While filters can be quite effective, they cannot entirely remove pollutants. When selecting a filtration system, it is critical to recognize that different filters have varying degrees of performance.

Consider the size of the filter when selecting a filtration system for your home. Microfiltration systems, for example, have pore sizes of 0.1 microns, and ultrafiltration has pore sizes of 0.01 microns. Microfiltration and ultrafiltration systems are both excellent at removing germs, but not so much at filtering out chemicals. Another filtration method is reverse osmosis, which has even smaller pore sizes and can remove bacteria, viruses, and protozoans, as well as many pollutants.

A simple water filtration system can consist of a pitcher with a filter. However, you may install filters on your home’s water faucets, or you can hire a professional to install a filtration system under the sink.
Does Disinfecting Water to Remove Bacteria?
Chemicals such as chlorine, chlorine dioxide, chloramine, and ozone can be used to disinfect water. Chlorination is frequently used by utilities to provide clean water to their customers. Private wells can also be chemically disinfected. While this method can remove many pollutants, protozoans such as Crypto and Giardia are resistant to chlorine. When working with chemicals in your house, it is critical to take precautions. Physical means, such as radiation, can also be used to disinfect water.
Do Ultraviolet Systems to Remove Bacteria in Water?
Another method for physically disinfecting drinking water is to use ultraviolet (UV) light. UV systems have been shown to be effective against protozoans such as Crypto and Giardia, as well as bacteria and viruses. Water is often prefiltered in these systems. Any suspended particles in the water can reduce the effectiveness of UV disinfection. UV lights are used to treat the water after it has been filtered. Microorganisms are unable to develop in your water system because UV radiation damages their cellular function.

UV disinfection systems do not change the flavor of your drinking water and do not require the use of any chemicals, such as chlorine. The systems are also small, low-maintenance, energy-efficient, and environmentally friendly.
Does Ozonation to Remove Bacteria in Water?
Ozonation has attracted more attention in recent years as a strategy for resolving water quality issues such as bacterial infestation. When oxygen is subjected to a high-voltage current, ozone is formed. Ozone may kill viruses, bacteria, and other microbes while also eliminating iron, sulfur, and manganese from water. Ozone works swiftly and decomposes quickly, reducing the entry of toxic disinfection byproducts and bad tastes or odors associated with chlorination. This procedure is more expensive and energy-intensive, and it is mainly utilized commercially or by large communities.

Ozone, like chlorine, is a strong oxidant that kills germs; however, it is a considerably more unstable gas that must be created on-site using electricity. Once created, the ozone is injected into the water, where it destroys the germs. Because ozonation units are substantially more expensive than chlorination or UV light systems, they are generally not recommended for disinfection. They may be effective in situations where numerous water quality issues must be addressed, such as disinfection in conjunction with iron and manganese removal.
Does Iodination to Remove Bacteria in Water?
Iodine, like chlorine, has been used in the past to continuously disinfect water. Due to health concerns about long-term exposure to low quantities of iodine residual in water, iodination is no longer regarded a permanent disinfection strategy. Iodination is presently only recommended for short-term or emergency disinfection by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Iodine tablets are a popular choice for water treatment among hikers and ca