Have you heard of the phrase, “water is life?” Yes, we indeed need water more than even food to keep living, and that’s why health experts recommend taking plenty of water a day. However, is it possible that we can bring harm to ourselves through the water we drink?
Waterborne diseases have become a common problem worldwide for a long time. What causes them, and how can we prevent or treat them? This blog will help us know how viruses in water can affect us, their mode of entry into the water, and how to detect and treat them.
Types of Waterborne Viruses
Besides other water pollutants like sulfur and bacteria, the World Health Organization estimates that about two billion people or more globally consume drinking water polluted with waterborne viruses. These viruses include; – rotavirus, hepatitis A, enterovirus, and norovirus/Norwalk.
Rotavirus present in water affects mostly infants and young children, though even adults can also get affected. Norovirus spreads easily and quickly, with only a substantial amount of it needed to make someone sick. It can also spread beyond the drinking water and even affect foods grown and harvested with contaminated water.
Among the five types of viral hepatitis, only hepatitis A and E have been found to spread through polluted water. All these viruses exhibit different symptoms and can have varied health effects. But, some of the common potential health effects resulting from drinking water contaminated with viruses include; – gastrointestinal illness (like diarrhea, cramps, vomiting), hepatitis, meningitis.
Symptoms to watch for hepatitis A are fever, nausea, appetite loss, weakness, and jaundice. Those for norovirus include diarrhea, vomiting, nausea, and stomachaches. Rotavirus has similar symptoms to hepatitis, with adults normally have milder symptoms than young children. The methods of preventing the viruses include proper hygiene, handwashing, washing fruits and vegetables thoroughly before eating, and avoiding consuming contaminated water or food.
The Source of Viruses and How They Get into Water
The main source of waterborne viruses is human and animal fecal wastes. Leaky sewer lines or dysfunctional septic systems, and unsterilized sewage sludge can be the root source of such waste that carries viruses. Viruses are microscopic and cannot be seen with naked eyes. So, how do they get into the water and spread? They can survive for very long periods but can only produce in living cells of a host like humans.
And that’s where we come into play and are needed. When water is contaminated with urine or fecal matter of an infected human or animal, viruses are transported in those pollutants into the water. Lakes and rivers with constant water flowing in them are most vulnerable to contamination. Sometimes health professionals and governments advise citizens to find proper means of disposing of such wastes, but every person has to ensure they do so. Floods and other natural disasters usually make it hard to prevent viral outbreaks and spread.
How to Test for Viruses in Water
What can help you know if the drinking water you use contains viruses? Again, they cannot be visible to our eyes, hence the challenge in knowing their presence or absence. The best thing to do in this case is to conduct a lab test for the water. Certified water testing laboratories can assist in doing so by using their test methods like molecular detection. You can also use brilliant coliform bacteria selective to carry out a home water test. It can indicate if the water contains viruses and help you know if advanced testing is needed.
How to Remove Viruses from Water?
Once you test the water and find out it contains viruses, it is vital to pick an efficient method to eliminate them. You can either use boiling, filtration, or disinfection techniques. Below are the processes to carry out for waterborne viruses’ removal:
- Boiling. Boiling is an effective way of killing viruses. It’s a pathogen reduction process that is meant to kill all pathogens. The water should be brought to a rolling boil for a minute for an altitude lower than 6,500 feet and three minutes for one above 6,500 feet. Boiling is not economical as it requires energy every time you boil a small amount of water.
- Ultrafiltration. It can also be used as a pathogen reduction method and depends on the used filter’s pore size, the amount, particle size, and charge of the contaminant. For instance, porous ceramic cast filters ensure that viruses are effectively removed. Filtration can also be combined with sedimentation (using gravity to eliminate large suspended solids in water) to optimize results.
- Disinfection. This can take place using iodine or chlorine and has high effectiveness in virus elimination. Chlorination is one way of disinfecting water and involves adding chlorine solution or gas to the water. It eliminates viruses through a chemical reaction by forming a weak acid, hypochlorous acid that penetrates the viruses’ cell walls and destroys them from inside out. Chlorine systems should be maintained properly, and the gas/solution supply replaced periodically to ensure effective functioning. Factors like chlorine concentration, water PH, turbidity, and temperature can affect the effectiveness of chlorination.
- Ultraviolet (UV) light. This is a non-chemical method of disinfection that involves setting the right UV system wavelength lighting to the water, thus destroying the viruses present. Some things to consider, though, while using UV light are the strength and intensity of the light – it should take less time to light the water. This is an efficient and relatively affordable method to get rid of water viruses.
- Ozonation. Injecting ozone into the water can help kill viruses and other microorganisms. It’s among the best water treatment techniques though costly as it may consume a lot of energy. Ozone is an oxidizing agent produced using electricity by exposing oxygen to a high voltage. It can be combined with chlorination to prevent and eliminate chlorine’s side effects like bad chemical odor and taste.
- Distillation. This is done using water distillers that also help in eliminating viruses by converting water into steam. The viruses cannot evaporate as water can, so they will remain in the distiller, and when the steam cools, the resulting liquid will be contaminant-free.
Learning about water contaminants is crucial in understanding the cause of health problems we might face, like diarrhea and stomach pains. Viruses constitute 50% of all water contaminants, hence the need to be alert and eliminate them. Also, remember that “prevention is better than cure.” Thus, always ensure you follow the guidelines to prevent viruses from afflicting your water!