There is always a risk in drinking water in the wild. There is a plethora of things that could be in that water that you do not want in your body. Most things in streams however will not kill you, just make you uncomfortable for a while.
Good question! This is one that I answered for myself on a fateful trip into the Cumberland Mountains in Tennessee. It was a few days into our trip when I inadvertently drank some unfiltered water that I thought had been boiled. It hadn’t, and within a week I had Giardia. This is a very painful, uncomfortable, diarrhea-causing, gas-inducing infection of the small intestine. With proper treatment I was okay in a few weeks but I will never again drink unfiltered water.
Rivers and streams, even when they look crystal clear, contain hundreds of kinds of bacteria and microscopic organisms that can cause a myriad of uncomfortable side affects. If you are going hiking please take along some sort of water filtration such as iodine tablets, or a ceramic filter like the one I now use (MSR miniworks). You’ll thank me, your intestines will thank me, and your friends who would rather not smell the by-products of your gassy infection will thank me.
Many different protozoa can be present in water sources, which usually originate from human or animal feces (much like E.Coli) that can easily be consumed, such as: Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Amoebae, Ciliates, etc…
Aside from the less harmful protozoa that can exist in the stream, there exists the potential of E.Coli consumption. This is much more of a serious threat than a nagging pathogen that found it’s way into the stream, E.Coli is a deadly serious health hazard if consumed. Although it would be very rare for it to exist in a clear beautiful running stream, there is always the threat.
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