Children who drink from public water can get E. coli in their systems

Children who drink often from public water systems — which is most notably in poor neighbourhoods in developing countries — are at an increased risk of falling ill from E. coli (EC) infections, according to a new study from a Calgary research team.

In the Netherlands, similar results have already been found. When E. coli is present in the water supply, people will often “suspiciously” feel sick, according to Dr. Lesley Wilson-O’Donnell, a consultant physician based in Africa and the study’s lead author. She explains in the video below how that typically happens, and why it is important for people in developing countries to treat drinking water with caution.

While young children or old people could theoretically also pick up E. coli from the water, researchers hypothesize that the presence of E. coli, which causes stomach pain, vomiting, fever, diarrhea, and other complications, is more likely in young, poor children who drink commonly.

Those are the demographics in Calgary where Dr. Wilson-O’Donnell, and her colleagues at the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, recently began a study to see how E. coli can spread between young children. When a child drinks from a source such as the tap or shower, bacteria travels through their gastrointestinal tract, where it can infect the bloodstream, spinal fluid, or lungs.

The researchers suggest that, if the bacteria is present in public drinking water, young children may be especially vulnerable to infection. This, they posit, is because they are spending a disproportionate amount of time alone with their parents, and that solitary time can translate into an accumulation of genetic mutations. Those mutations, which occur during childhood and adolescence, could make young children more susceptible to infection than their peers with healthier families.

The researchers are looking at health data from across Calgary and the Alberta region, where the majority of families are living in high-rises and condos. The aim is to collect information about the amount of time children spend in the natural environment — including in public drinking water — as well as specific times and venues such as buses and playgrounds.

The study may eventually be included as an update to a database already maintained by the World Health Organization, which groups countries by age, income, and location. Researchers are using this database to identify areas that are very likely to have unsafe drinking water, and perhaps for countries to develop measures to tackle this. In addition to gathering information about the city’s drinking water supply, the researchers will be able to also test water samples in more controlled and controlled environments such as the water reservoirs of a subdivision near this study site.

H/T University of Calgary

Read the full story at Canadian Business.

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