The lowdown : Bacteria and drinking water

Keeping hydrated keeps us happy, healthy, and alert – but drinking water can also make us unwell if we don’t keep its source clean and hygienic. Today, we’re going to be discussing how this can happen, what the consequences might be, as well as how to prevent your drinking water becoming contaminated.

The bacteria

BacteriaThe first, important, thing to say, is that bacteria can, and does, safely exist in drinking water. This only becomes a cause for concern when certain types of bacteria, called pathogens, are allowed to grow, these are bacteriums, viruses, or microorganisms that cause disease. The Scottish Consumer Focus Group (2009), conducted a microbiological study, collecting samples of water from water coolers and fountains in schools, leisure centres, offices, and care homes, and found that 26% of these were contaminated, containing bacteria such as E.coli, Pseudomonas, and Staphylococcus aureus.

Pseudomonas are a bacterium that is naturally found in many types of water, and the majority of us come into contact with pseudomonas on a daily basis and are unaffected, however, for immunosuppressed groups, such as those with cystic fibrosis, severe burns, or those subject to foreign device installation (such as an IUD or pacemaker), they can lead to the development of wound, ear, and respiratory infections.

E.coli (Escherichia) is a coliform bacteria that can cause severe digestive upsetWater and abdominal cramps. This bacteria poses a risk to children under the age of five, elderly people, and individuals who already have longstanding medical conditions such as AIDs, as it can lead to kidney failure and a dramatic reduction in red blood cells.

Staphylococcus aureus (commonly known to cause ‘staph infections’) are another bacterium that most of us come into contact with on a regular basis, without causing long term, or harmful, effects. Staphylococcus aureus can cause skin conditions such as boils or abscesses, however, it can also cause more serious or longer lasting infections such as impetigo or cellulitis, and can be resistant to antibiotics, making treatment very difficult.

The more serious variety of bacteria that can form in water is legionella. Legionella thrives in warm water, such as water that is exposed to the sun or heat sources for long periods of time. Exposure to legionella can result in legionnaires disease, a type of pneumonia causing confusion, persistent cough, muscle pain, and high temperatures.


How to keep your water clean

Water coolerAs we’ve mentioned previously, it is entirely normal and expected that a certain amount of bacteria finds it’s way into our water sources, however, an excess build up, or a build up of a certain type of bacteria happens when water sources are inadequately maintained, or contaminated.

Many organisations choose a bottle top water cooler, a water cooler in which water is held in a large bottle and dispensed through taps. By storing water stored in a bottle, you risk creating an exposed reservoir, where bacteria is able to grow.  The bottle can develop a ‘biofilm’, which is a coating of microbial matter that can enter the water cooler. There is also a risk of contamination from the handling process of switching the bottles across.

The most hygienic choice for a water cooler or fountain is one that works using point of use technology. This takes water directly from the source and dispenses it, as opposed to storing it in a closed reservoir.