Protect your customers.
There are many ways wells can become contaminated with microbes like E. coli that have absolutely nothing to do with how a well was drilled. Contamination can occur when heavy rainfall, spring runoff, or flooding events overwhelm even well-constructed, newer wells, and introduce agricultural runoff into the aquifer below. Common contamination sources include manure spreading, wildlife, storm sewage overflow, and leaking septic systems. And because you can't see, taste, or smell microbial contaminants, homeowners won't even realize their water is contaminated until someone gets sick or they test their water.
A typical water test will look for nitrates and bacteria. When testing for bacteria, what they’re really looking for is coliforms, which are referred to as indicator organisms. And, while it’s true that these microbes won’t necessarily make your customers sick, finding them in the well water indicates that disease-causing microbes or pathogens, like E. coli, could make their way into the water supply.
As it turns out, though, E. coli isn’t even the top cause of disease outbreaks in private water systems. According to the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), that honor belongs to Hepatitis A, which is actually a virus and not a type of bacteria at all. Here’s a look at all the offending microbes that top the CDC list.
Bugs most commonly found in well water, according to the CDC:
1. Hepatitis A: Hepatitis A is the name of the liver infection caused by the virus by the same name. Hepatitis A is very contagious and is easily passed through person-to-person contact or by consuming contaminated food or water. Symptoms include jaundice, fatigue, nausea, vomiting, and fever. The only good news is that a Hep A infection does not cause chronic or on-going health issues.
2. Giardia: Giardia is a protozoan. When ingested, like when you drink contaminated water, it causes diarrhea, stomach cramps, and nausea that can last up to two weeks or more. Learn more about how Giardia can get into well water here.
3. Campylobacter and E. coli (tie): Both of these nasty bugs will cause – you guessed it – diarrhea (sometimes bloody), stomach cramps, and more.
Campylobacter, like many other pathogens, can be found in water supplies that have been contaminated with the feces of an infected person or animal. Unfortunately, that can happen quite easily in the event of a septic system failure, polluted storm water, or runoff from farms. The risk of contamination is higher after flooding.
There are a number of strains of E. coli. Some can be harmless, but others are absolutely nasty and an infection can lead to kidney failure and even death.
4. Shigella: Shigella is another type of bacteria and, like the others, will cause diarrhea (sometimes bloody), nausea, vomiting, stomach cramps, and fever. It will usually clear up after five to seven days, but who needs to go through that?
5. Cryptosporidium and Salmonella (tie): Here we have another protozoan parasite, often known just as Crypto, and a bacterium, Salmonella, that is most likely associate with eggs or undercooked meat.
Cryptosporidium is protected by an outer shell (cyst) that allows it to survive in the environment and in well water (same as Giardia, actually). That shell also makes it very resistant to chlorine disinfection. Once ingested, it will cause infection with symptoms including watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, fever, and weight loss. For people with weakened immune systems, it can be much more serious, becoming chronic and could even cause death.
If you’re knocked down by Salmonella, you are in for four to seven days of diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. Recovery is usually complete, but it may be several months before your bowel habits are entirely normal again. A small number of people with Salmonella will develop joint pain called reactive arthritis that can last months or years and even could develop into chronic arthritis.