In the recent post entitled “The Little Things“, writer Claymor mentions the importance of water and of providing for a means of treating non-potable water. I certainly agree with this, however he goes on to assert “If you’re lucky you’ll die from dehydration before giardia takes claim.” This may not be the case.
Every reputable survival school in the country teaches the same thing– if faced with the choice between drinking questionable water and suffering the effects of serious dehydration, you should (almost) always err on the side of drinking the water. The reasons for this are several: the negative effects of severe dehydration are rapid and immediately dangerous and will progress rapidly. Further, if the water source is merely questionable (as opposed to confirmed to be contaminated), then there is the chance also that it is safe. However the result of not drinking it (dehydration, possible death) are certain. Finally, even if your chosen water source is contaminated, many of the enteric pathogens people fear (giardia, hep A, cryptosporidium, et cetera) have an incubation period of days to weeks. That means you may be without symptoms for that amount of time, giving you time to: #1 survive the immediate crisis of no water and #2 prepare for the possibility that you may come down with some unpleasant diarrhea. Invasive diarrhea is no laughing matter to be sure, but it is treatable and at least in the healthy and strong, very survivable even with minimal medical infrastructure. Treatment of invasive diarrhea is a topic for another day (or a search of the SB archives), but it is done every day in the developing world. Lastly, there is a surprisingly large percentage of the population which may be exposed to giardia, even colonized by it, and even become a carrier of it, without ever developing symptoms. Death by dehydration, however, is symptomatic for everyone.
Surely treating your water and preparing ahead of time for that possible need is best. But lacking the means to do so, don’t be like the desert visitor who dies next to a water hole because he lacks the means to purify it. All the best, – j