SAN ANTONIO – For communities like Comal County, still under a boil water advisory, making sure you’re not getting sick from the water out of the tap is very important. But experts say boiling the water may not be enough to stay safe.
Low water pressure and water main breaks can cause contaminants and backflow from wastewater treatment plants to seep into water sources.
Dr. Tess Barton, an associate professor of pediatric infectious disease at UT Health San Antonio, says that fecal germs and bacteria can find their way into your mouth if you are not careful.
“Mostly what we end up seeing are diarrhea illnesses from drinking contaminated water, brushing your teeth with contaminated water or swallowing water when you’re in the shower,” Barton said.
Barton says that after drinking contaminated water, you’ll likely be spending a lot of time in the bathroom.
According to Barton, even a shower with hot water and soap is not entirely safe because a small amount of water can seep into your mouth and it only takes a few germs to cause illness.
Barton recommends not putting your face in the water either.
According to Barton, dishwashing with water unsafe to drink can put users at risk for fecal matter contact.
“Have a tub of some hot water that has a little bit of bleach in it, and then just soak them, or do a bleach dip to sort of clean to be sure that you’ve taken care of any of the surface contaminants that are still in the dishes,” Barton said.
Handwashing in unboiled water should also be followed up by hand sanitizer, according to Barton.
“For some bacteria, in particular viruses that can cause diarrhea, it only takes a few, a few of them, to get into you to actually cause disease,” Barton said. “The good news is that most of those things, most of the diarrhea is that that we get from contaminated water, for the most part, are self-limited, and don’t necessarily require treatment.”
It’s recommended that all water used for cooking and drinking in areas still under an advisory be cooked for at least two minutes at a rolling boil.
If you do become sick after drinking water, the most important thing to do is to rehydrate yourself with bottled or boiled water.
Seek medical attention if you have a fever, blood in your stool, or if you’re not able to drink enough clean water to stay ahead of the diarrhea, Barton says.