Contaminated water & how to avoid the risks while travelling

Contaminated water can cause vomiting and diarrhoea whilst overseas. Often the water looks okay but it may be full of germs/chemicals which can make you ill. There are many ways you can minimise your risk.

If you are not 100% sure the water supply is safe it is best to avoid local tap water. This means do not drink the local tap water and also do not brush your teeth using it. Keep your mouth closed whilst having a shower!

If you are not sure the tap water is safe I suggest you put something (eg face washer) over the bathroom tap/kitchen tap to reduce the chance of automatically drinking and brushing your teeth with unsafe water.

Take care when ordering drinks. Ask for no ice. Has unsafe water been used to make the ice?

To ensure a safe water supply many people will buy sealed bottles of water. Always check to  ensure seals are unbroken before drinking. Unfortunately these plastic bottles mount up quickly and are contribute to environmental problems.

A great option to get safe water is to disinfect local water. This can be done by a variety of means  and may be the only option if you are camping/hiking/going off the beaten track.

The best way to do this is to purchase a water filter. Many of these are sold as water bottles or straws and are relatively inexpensive.  They disinfect the water through filtration as you drink and some may have additional iodine components.  They remove viruses, bacteria, protozoa, chemicals and contaminants. Using this system the water is immediately safe to drink. Filters are often replaceable.

If filtration is unavailable boiling or chemical disinfectants should be used.

Boiling water kills many of the germs. Water needs to be boiled for at least 1 minute before it is considered safe. Ideally allow to cool and stand to enable sediment to settle before using.

Chemical disinfectants such as iodide or chlorine can also be used to disinfect water. Flavouring is often added to improve the taste left by the disinfectant. Water often needs to be left for hours to ensure that germs are killed. Giardia cysts are not killed by this method. Please be aware that iodine (within a filter or as a chemical disinfectant) cannot be used if you are pregnant, have a thyroid condition or have an iodine allergy.

Disclaimer: The information on the Shepparton Travel Clinic website has been prepared for general information purpose only. It is not intended to be relied on as a substitute for professional medical advice. No person should act, fail to act, disregard professional medical advice, or delay seeking professional medical advice on the basis of this material. Shepparton Travel Clinic does not guarantee the accuracy, currency or completeness of any of this information and will not be liable for any loss, damage or injury directly or indirectly caused by this material or its use.