A recent study published by the Environmental & Science Technology journal found that our drinking water may not be as safe as it seems due to the presence of a specific type of bacteria.
The study was conducted by researchers from the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA.) Over the course of two years, they collected 272 water samples from 68 taps across the country. The samples came from both public and private sources–kitchen and bathroom sinks, drinking fountains and refrigerator water dispensers.
After testing the samples, the results indicated that 32 of the taps were found to contain traces of Legionella pneumophila, the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease or the less severe Pontiac fever.
The two conditions, collectively, are referred to as legionellosis.
Legionnaires’ disease is similar to pneumonia so it can be hard to diagnose. Symptoms include coughing, fever, headaches and muscle pain. It can be treated with antibiotics, but hospitalization is usually required. Up to 30% of the people who contract Legionnaire’s disease are at risk of death due to it.
The milder infection caused by the same bacteria, Pontiac fever, has similar symptoms that will subside without treatment.
The disease got its name from its last known large outbreak in 1976, at the Philadelphia convention of the American Legion. Since then, between 8,000 and 18,000 people are hospitalized annually with the disease although this number may be higher as many infections go undiagnosed.
Exposure of the bacterium occurs through mist or water vapor and cannot be spread from person to person. Thus, drinking the contaminated tap water is not an issue, but inhaling condensation or water vapor is.
According to this study, millions of Americans could be potentially exposed to contaminated water, so this is definitely a continuing problem.
– Mollie O’Brien