Survival Guide: How To Avoid Waterborne Diseases And Illness

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Avoid The Most Common Water Borne Diseases In a Survival Situation

Perhaps the most inherently dangerous scenario for somebody in a survival situation is contracting a waterborne disease through drinking water.

Drinking enough water to stay hydrated is a critical aspect for survival, and many of your decisions in a survival situation will revolve around locating water sources. Any ground water source you may come across however, represents a potential risk of waterborne diseases.

Disease, Shmisease! I’m a Tough Survivalist!

Which kinds of diseases you ask? Oh, I don’t know, maybe you could get:

  • Diarhea
  • Cholera
  • Typhoid Fever
  • Crytosporidiosis
  • Dysentery
  • Traveller’s Diarhea
  • Giardiasis

And much more!

The last thing anyone would want to deal with in a survival situation is an intestinal illness. Beside the unpleasantness of diarrhea and vomiting, a waterborne disease can leave you weak and dehydrated.

Such a condition would be a significant inconvenience at home but it’s downright life-threatening in a survival situation.

Some woodsmen swear by the purity of their favorite remote water sources and, in all likelihood, you could drink untreated water from some fresh water sources and be unaffected.

But the possibility of waterborne illness or diseases is always present, and if you are serious about maximizing your chance of survival, you won’t take such a chance on something so simple to avoid.

boil your water dammit


Pathogens are the source of many waterborne diseases. These pathogens originate in the intestinal tracts of animals. Ground water can easily contain fecal material either by direct deposit or by runoff created by rainfall, which will then contaminate the source with protozoa, bacteria, and viruses. A pristine creek edge, free of scat could easily be infected by animal droppings half-mile upstream.


Perhaps the most widespread source of waterborne disease in the US is Giardia. This single-celled organism is said to be present in every body of water in the country and can withstand cold temperatures for months at a time. Giardia will produce severe intestinal discomfort, including diarrhea and vomiting, which can effect a victim for weeks. Cryptosporidium is another common protozoan with similar ailments, and is particularly dangerous to people with an immune disorder.

Other potentially threatening viruses and bacteria species in water supplies include E. coli, Cholera, Salmonella and Hepatitis.

Water can also be contaminated with toxins from industrial or agricultural runoff. And algae can leach dangerous toxins into the source, so avoid any water source with visible algal bloom.


You should always treat or boil water to avoid illness.

Boiling water is the only 100 percent effective method for killing off waterborne pathogens. Recommendations on boil time vary slightly; for example, the National Park Service recommends boiling for one minute at sea level and an extra minute for every 1,000 feet above. While others suggest simply allowing water to reach the boiling point is enough to eliminate most of the harmful pathogens.

Boiling is the most foolproof method to treat water, but some other methods include using a water filter or purifier, or purifying tablets such as iodine or chlorine. The average water filter is effective at removing bacteria and protozoa, but does not eliminate the viruses, which are more effectively dealt with by a water purifier.


It is wise to carry more than one system for treating water with you when in the field to act as a backup in case your main system fails, or when facing a particularly unappealing water source. Whenever possible, select the clearest water supply available and avoid collecting water shortly after a downpour, as this will increase pathogen levels from the runoff.

Drinking safe, uncontaminated water is as essential to your survival as your survival knife, even more so in fact. Boil any water collect to limit the chance of being infected with a life threatening waterborne disease or illness. Never risk it unless death by dehydration is looming and you have no choice.

H/T: Boiled Water Photo

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