Disclaimer: I am not handing out medical advice. I am trying to warn you why you shouldn’t drink water that could potentially be a breeding ground for a particularly nasty bug called norovirus. In order to do that, we have to talk about what it is, what it might do and how you can help to prevent getting it in the first place. I’m not a doctor. I’m just a nurse with a hobby and a penchant for reading through unfathomably long scholarly research articles. I hope this helps you but remember, absolutely nothing you read out here on the interwebs can replace the common sense of getting ACTUAL medical advice when you need it even if WebMD diagnosed you with God knows what. Leave WebMD alone and talk to the healthcare professionals who actually know you and your body.
Disclaimer II: I have to warn you, if you have a weak stomach, wait until after you eat before you read through this blog. This will serve as your only trigger warning.
Now, about that norovirus. . .
Norovirus is no joke now. Can you imagine how much fun it would be during a SHTF situation? Have you ever heard the term ‘gastroenteritis’ before? Well, norovirus is usually the culprit behind this illness. You might know gastroenteritis by another name, the stomach flu. Norovirus isn’t an influenza virus but if you catch it you might feel like you’ve been plowed over by a truck just like you normally do when you catch the flu. When you’re sick with norovirus, your entire gastrointestinal system could become inflamed leading to a host of problematic symptoms which include vomiting, diarrhea, fever and dehydration. Gastroenteritis also usually presents with intense abdominal pain, a loss of appetite and extreme lethargy.
Norovirus is transmitted from person to person. There’s some debate on animal to human transmission but it appears that dogs can also contract this virus from us and not the other way around. This virus causes about 18% of all gastroenteritis cases on a global scale when all the modes of transmission are added up. If you’re wondering how norovirus gets into a water supply, especially since it’s mostly transmitted from person to person, you might have already guessed, feces. That’s right. Poop in your water supply can lead to an infection with norovirus and is almost always transmitted by the fecal to oral route. This is probably why your parents warned you not to swallow lake water when you were a kid. Now you know and hopefully, fond memories of mouthfuls of lakewater did not just do you in.
Norovirus typically makes a grand appearance at popular swimming holes and children are usually among the first to get sick. When SHTF, you can bet “your” lake water source will also become “their” water source especially if it’s out in the open, popular among the locals or just well known in general. When people come, they will be bringing their viruses with them. Sometimes, people aren’t even aware they’re carrying norovirus so there’s no sure-fire way to tell if someone has it before they hit the beach. The safest bet, if you plan to use lakewater as your water source reserve, is to filter AND purify any water you pull just to be sure.
To help remove the threat of Norovirus from your water source, especially if it's a lake, make sure you:
Boil for at least 5 minutes. (High temperatures can kill norovirus or significantly weaken the critter.)
Filter it with charcoal
Treat your water with iodine or chlorine tabs
Boil it again for another 5 minutes
Filter it again with charcoal.
Hypothetically speaking, if you do get sick during a SHTF scenario and you believe the culprit is norovirus, remember to treat the symptoms first by staying hydrated. Vomiting and diarrhea are the body’s natural defenses to rid itself of invaders, such as norovirus, but it doesn’t always work and you lose a ton of fluid. With a fever, it’s a good idea to let your body cook so long as your fever doesn’t get too high. Fever is another natural defense mechanism which makes your body (the host) inhospitable to most invaders. Lastly, remember to alter your pH if it is at all possible by eating high pH foods. This too will make your body too uncomfortable for invaders to stick around, replicate and make you miserable.
Remember, this isn’t medical advice. If you think you’re sick, you *must* see a doctor or your healthcare professional. Norovirus isn’t fatal in and of itself but if you let the dehydration continue (because you’re losing fluid from vomiting and diarrhea), you’re playing with worse fire than the bug that put you into this boat.