You can’t see them, but they’re there. Bacteria are lurking in wait to descend upon your intestines and blood, but the fight isn’t one-sided. Sure, they have the power to totally ruin your trip and your health, but a little preparation on your part goes a long way.
E.Coli Waits in the Water
Everyone from the casual hiker to the gnarly survivalist must know about drinking safe water. One (out of many) of the most common and dangerous bacteria found in contaminated water is E. Coli. This powerful bacteria punches well above its weight, causing severe diarrhea, abdominal pain, and sometimes kidney failure.
It’s best to just assume all water you encounter in the wilderness is contaminated by tiny nasties bent on your destruction. Keep your eyes and mouth closed when bathing or swimming in any questionable water, especially if it isn’t free-flowing.
When you’re out on your adventures, keep a record of where and when you gathered your water. When you find yourself at the doctor this will help to determine the course of treatment. It may help to notify authorities of contaminated water sources.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, “If boiling water is not possible, a combination of filtration and chemical disinfection is the most effective pathogen reduction method in drinking water for backcountry or travel use.”
Stomach devastating Salmonella
Bacteria in food can not only ruin a fun outdoor adventure, it has the potential to cause deadly health problems.
Salmonella is a microscopic bacteria behind serious gastrointentianal infection known as salmonellosis. Ingesting this bacteria in under-cooked or contaminated foods can result in cramps, headache, fever, vomiting, and severe diarrhea. Symptoms can wait to show themselves for 12-72 hours, so keep track of what you’ve eaten over the course of your trip. This will help with diagnosis if problems set in.
Take special steps to keep your utensils and hands clean. Wash dishes and hands with anti-bacterial soap before and after use. Cooking in the dark can pose hazards for under-cooked meats, so bring a small food thermometer to check food temperature before you dig in.
Lyme Disease Causing Borrelia burgdorferi
One of the most powerful backcountry bacteria, Borrelia burgdorferi, is carried by deer ticks. It causes Lyme disease, which affects thousands of outdoor enthusiasts ever year. When a tick is infected with the bacteria, it transmits it on through bites.
Immature ticks, called Nymphs, are the most responsible for passing along the disease. They are especially dangerous due to their size, less than 2mm. Outdoor explorers and ticks are most active at the same times, the spring and summer months.
When you return from outdoor trips, give yourself a full body check for ticks. They like to hide out in dark places like armpits and the groin area. A bull’s eye rash is an early indicator of a tick bite, but other symptoms can include fever, headache, and muscle pain. If you see a tick or rash, grab your phone and take a photo. This way you can show your doctor to help determine spread and diagnosis.
They may be tiny, but you should treat bacteria in contaminated food, water, and insects like the towering behemoth of doom that they really are. Add cleaning products to your packing list and test out your backcountry recipes before you hit the trail.