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FOR RELEASE: October 5, 2000
CONTACT: Dick Gunn

Caution Advised for Outdoorsmen: Germs Lurk in Calm Waters

With one of the highest shoreline mileages in the nation, Oklahoma has an abundance of rivers, lakes and creeks for water recreation. These recreational opportunities also provide occasions for an increased risk of exposure to waterborne diseases. Hunters, fishermen, campers and hikers should be aware of safety precautions to avoid these diseases, advises the Oklahoma State Department of Health. Health officials are particularly concerned about the risks of waterborne diseases like leptospirosis, giardiasis, cryptosporidiosis, and infections with E. coli O157.

Leptospirosis is a potentially serious illness caused by the bacteria, Leptospira that can affect both animals and people. Many different kinds of wild animals plus dogs, cattle and swine can be carriers of the disease. Infected animals can pass Leptospira through their urine for a long period of time and not show signs of sickness. The disease may be transmitted by contact with fresh water, mud or vegetation contaminated by the urine of infected animals. Persons may also be exposed to the disease by handling tissues of infected animals. The early symptoms of leptospirosis are typically fever, headache, severe muscle aches and eye redness. To prevent leptospirosis:

  • Limit contact with water, mud or vegetation that might be contaminated with the urine of infected animals, especially rats or mice.
  • Immunize dogs and farm animals.
  • Prevent animal urine contamination of areas where humans live, work or play.
  • Wear rubber or latex gloves when handling or field dressing wild animals.

Giardiasis and Cryptosporidiosis are both diarrheal illnesses caused by a microscopic parasite that may inhabit the intestines of people and animals. Frequent symptoms are abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and nausea that usually appear 1 –2 weeks after exposure. Diarrhea may last several weeks without appropriate treatment. Infections with Giardia or Cryptosporidia may result from swallowing as little as one mouthful of water contaminated with sewage or feces from infected humans or animals. Eating cross-contaminated food, or having direct contact with infected animals are other ways of spreading these diseases. Persons most at risk in the outdoors are hikers, campers, and others who drink untreated water from contaminated sources.

Ways to prevent Giardiasis or Cryptosporidiosis are:

  • Wash hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds after using the toilet, changing diapers and before handling food.
  • Avoid drinking or swallowing water from lakes, rivers, springs, ponds, or streams unless it has been properly filtered and chemically treated.
  • When traveling to other countries where the water supply may be unsafe, avoid drinking unboiled tap water and avoid eating uncooked foods.
  • Persons in contact with calves and other animals with diarrhea should wash hands thoroughly, and remove shoes and soiled work clothes before entering the home.

E. Coli is a commonly found bacteria in the digestive tracts of humans and animals. Most strains of the bacteria are harmless, but some strains like E. coli O157:H7 produce toxins and can cause serious digestive tract infections. Some of the symptoms may include abdominal pain and bloody diarrhea that appear three to four days following exposure. Fever is not usually present.

The most common source of E. coli O157:H7 infection is raw or undercooked ground beef, or unpasteurized milk or juice products. However, infections have also occurred from swimming in, or drinking contaminated water. Outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 associated with lakes and recreational water parks have occurred in other states.

In general, the health message for outdoorsmen is to always carry bottled water or boil water taken from an outdoor water source before consuming it. When swimming in a lake or stream, one should avoid swallowing water or having water forced through the nose.

For additional information on waterborne diseases, please contact your local health department or visit the OSDH on the World Wide Web at: www.health.state.ok.us.


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