The short answer in the developing world is… No!!!
You’ve heard the warnings — don’t drink the tap water, don’t order ice in your drinks and don’t eat any salad or fruit that may have been washed in said water. It’s all very much true. But did you also know that the rule of thumb for any place not located directly in the middle of the beaten path (or, as I like to call it, home) is to avoid any and all water coming out of a faucet. Do not let it enter your body in any way. That means, no tilting your head back and opening your mouth or nostrils in the shower. No cleaning out those dusty, little buggers with your wet fingers. And, one of the most overlooked, no brushing your teeth with tap water. Seriously. It is imperative that you brush your teeth with bottled or purified water. As a reminder, I immediately toss a wash cloth over the faucet and place one bottle of water in the bathroom sink as soon as I arrive. The strategy seems to slow me down enough to think about what I am doing when I’m running on auto pilot.
What about those larger, brand name hotels? You have probably read that it’s perfectly safe to ingest their water regardless the location, right? I choose to pass on that little biology experiment as well. Trust me when I tell you nothing is worse than hanging out in the bathroom, water closet or (gasp!) squatter while a world of excitement passes you by. (Need a reminder? Click here)
I’ve also learned the hard way not to trust just any ol’ bottled water. You see, a couple of years ago I came across an unscrupulous person who either pried the lid off a water bottle or found an empty bottle which he filled with tap (or river) water and then sold to me. Three days of fever, chills and, errrr…. spills, taught me to only buy bottled water at the airport, local grocery store or credible hotel. It’s a shame that one bad apple can muddy the waters, so to speak.
Panicked yet? Don’t be! Here is the good news: purifying water is a very simple process.
First, there is the readily available and inexpensive option of good old-fashioned chlorine bleach. My local Public Health Nurse suggested carrying the bleach in a typical eye drop bottle (wrapped in a baggie so it won’t leak). Add one drop or two (no more than two!) to any water you intend to consume, then giving it a good shake or stir. Voila … potable water!!
Not a fan of bleach water? I don’t blame you. Another option includes filtering cups and/or straws typically offered through camping and hiking outlets. I recently discovered Seychelle’s 28-ounce sports bottle that comes with a filtration system that not only removes bacteria, viruses and the errant parasite; it also removes heavy metals and radiation. Whoa. Now that’s one to keep in your emergency preparedness kit.
If you are less concerned about radiation and just looking to kill greeny meanies in regular, clear tap water, steriPen is a great alternative. I have used it myself on several trips and it works like a charm. Just turn it on, insert it into your bottle or glass of water and agitate for a minute. The UV light technology kills 99.9% of bacteria, viruses and protozoan cysts leaving you with safe drinking water. That it takes batteries makes it a real hit in my book.
Another option is the LifeStraw, developed by Swiss based company Vestergaard Frandsen. It has proven to be a real life saver in Sub-Sahara Africa and is available online at several well-known retailers. Please note: LifeStraw uses Iodine as part of its filtration process making it incompatible for those with Thyroid problems.
Bottom Line: When it comes to having access to clean safe drinking water there are a plethora of available options from the simple to the scientific. Your job is to educate yourself and choose the one that works best for you.
P.S. Here’s a tidy little home tip for ya: If you get your water from a private well, it doesn’t hurt to have the water tested for bacteria every once in a while. If the initial test results come back positive, don’t panic. Just bleach the well pulling the water through the lines running into the house (you can find instructions on the internet) then have the water tested again to make sure all is well.
“All is well with the well.” Hahahaaa… I crack me up.
Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional and strongly recommend that you discuss this and any other health related concerns with your personal health care provider.