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Water Purification 101


Clean drinking water is essential for survival, especially during emergencies. When disasters strike and water sources become contaminated or inaccessible, it is crucial to have the knowledge and skills for water purification to prevent waterborne diseases and dehydration. In this blog post, we will discuss various methods and techniques for purifying water in emergency situations, highlight the importance of clean drinking water, and provide step-by-step instructions on how to purify water using common household items or portable water filtration systems.

While water from natural sources such as puddles, ponds, creeks, or lakes may appear clean, it often contains various contaminants that can harm your health if consumed untreated. It is crucial to understand the potential risks associated with untreated water sources and the importance of water purification before drinking it.

Why Do You Need To Purify Water?

During emergencies such as natural disasters, water sources can become contaminated with bacteria, viruses, and other pollutants, leading to waterborne diseases like cholera, typhoid, and hepatitis A. Inadequate access to clean water can also result in dehydration, which can be life-threatening.

Water purification is essential to ensure that it is safe for consumption and to prevent the spread of waterborne diseases. By purifying water during emergencies, you can protect yourself and your family from illness and dehydration, and ensure their survival until clean water sources are restored.

Water Borne Diseases

Contracting cholera is highly possible if water purification is not conducted correctly. Cholera is a devastating bacterial infection caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae. The disease is usually transmitted through contaminated water or food, particularly in areas with poor sanitation and hygiene practices. Once the bacteria enter the intestines, they release a toxin that causes the characteristic symptoms of cholera.

The onset of cholera is typically sudden, with symptoms appearing within a few hours to five days after exposure to the bacteria. The most prominent symptom of cholera is watery diarrhea, which can rapidly lead to severe dehydration if left untreated. The diarrhea is often described as “rice water” due to its pale, cloudy appearance and may be accompanied by vomiting. As the disease progresses, those stricken may experience muscle cramps, rapid heart rate, and low blood pressure.

Dehydration is a serious complication of cholera and can be life-threatening if not addressed promptly. Signs of dehydration include dry mouth, excessive thirst, infrequent urination, dark urine, and lethargy. In severe cases, dehydration can lead to shock, organ failure, and death.

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Cholera Symptoms

In addition to the classic symptoms of cholera, some folks may experience less common manifestations of the disease when water purification has not been conducted properly. These can include fever, abdominal pain, and nausea. It is important to note that not everyone infected with Vibrio cholerae will exhibit all of these symptoms, so a high index of suspicion is necessary for prompt diagnosis and treatment.

The physiological processes behind the symptoms of cholera are well understood. The toxin produced by Vibrio cholerae causes the intestines to secrete large amounts of water and electrolytes, resulting in the watery diarrhea characteristic of the disease. The rapid loss of fluids and electrolytes leads to dehydration, which can disrupt the normal functioning of the body and lead to serious complications.

Early detection and treatment of cholera are crucial for a favorable outcome. If you suspect that you or someone you know may have cholera, seek medical attention immediately. Treatment typically involves rehydration therapy with oral rehydration solutions or intravenous fluids, as well as antibiotics to reduce the duration and severity of the illness.

Typhoid fever is another serious and potentially life-threatening bacterial infection that can be caused due to improper water purification. The bacterium Salmonella enterica serotype Typhi causes Typhoid fever. Knowing the warning signs and symptoms of typhoid fever is crucial for early detection and treatment. 

Warning Signs and Symptoms:

1. High fever, often reaching up to 104°F (40°C)

2. Weakness and fatigue

3. Headache

4. Abdominal pain or discomfort

5. Loss of appetite

6. Diarrhea or constipation

7. Rose-colored spots on the chest or abdomen

8. Enlarged spleen and liver

9. Cough

10. Delirium or confusion

Typhoid Fever Transmission

Typhoid fever is primarily transmitted through contaminated food or water. The bacterium Salmonella Typhi is shed in the feces of infected individuals, and can then be ingested by others through contaminated food or water. Poor sanitation and hygiene practices, such as inadequate handwashing and improper food handling, contribute to the spread of the disease.

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Common Risk Factors:

1. Consuming contaminated food or water

2. Close contact with individuals who are infected with typhoid fever

3. Lack of access to clean water and proper sanitation facilities

4. Compromised immune system

Potential Complications:

If left untreated, typhoid fever can lead to serious complications, such as:

1. Intestinal perforation

2. Internal bleeding

3. Encephalitis (brain inflammation)

4. Pneumonia

5. Kidney failure

6. Gallbladder infection (cholecystitis)

When to Seek Medical Attention:

If you experience any of the warning signs and symptoms of typhoid fever, seek medical attention immediately. Early diagnosis and treatment with antibiotics are essential to prevent complications and reduce the spread of the disease.

Water Purification Methods

There are several methods and techniques for purifying water in emergency situations, each with its own advantages and limitations. Some common methods include boiling, using chlorine tablets, using iodine tablets, and using portable water filtration systems. Each method is effective at removing different types of contaminants, so it is important to choose the most suitable method based on the situation and available resources.

Boiling is one of the most effective methods for purifying water, as it kills bacteria, viruses, and parasites that may be present in the water. To boil water, simply bring it to a rolling boil for at least one minute (or three minutes at high altitudes) and allow it to cool before consuming. Boiling is a simple and cost-effective way to purify water, but it may not remove certain chemical pollutants or heavy metals.

Chlorine and iodine tablets are also commonly used for water purification in emergencies. These tablets are easy to use and portable, making them convenient for emergency situations. Simply follow the instructions on the packaging to add the appropriate number of tablets to the water and wait for them to dissolve. Chlorine and iodine are effective at killing bacteria and viruses, but they may not remove all contaminants, so it is important to use them in conjunction with other water purification methods if possible.

Portable water filtration systems, such as water filters and purifiers, are another effective way to purify water in emergencies. These systems use physical filtration and/or chemical treatment to remove contaminants from water, making it safe for consumption. Portable water filtration systems vary in size, cost, and effectiveness, so it is important to choose a system that meets your needs and budget.

Water Purification Techniques

There are several methods of purifying water that can effectively remove or kill harmful contaminants, making it safe for consumption. 

  • Boiling: Boiling water is one of the simplest and most effective ways to kill harmful bacteria, viruses, and parasites. Simply bring the water to a rolling boil for at least one minute (or three minutes at higher altitudes) to ensure that it is safe to drink.
  • Filtration: Water filtration systems such as portable water filters or water purifiers can effectively remove sediment, bacteria, and other contaminants from untreated water. Look for filters that are certified by reputable organizations such as the NSF or the EPA for best results.
  • Chemical disinfection: Chemical disinfection methods such as using chlorine tablets, iodine tablets, or water purification drops can kill bacteria and viruses in untreated water. Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully when using these chemicals to ensure safe drinking water.
  • UV sterilization: UV sterilization devices, such as portable UV purifiers, use ultraviolet light to kill bacteria, viruses, and parasites in water. These devices are easy to use and can provide an additional layer of protection against waterborne pathogens.

Contaminated Water Risks and Challenges

Contaminated water poses several risks and challenges during emergencies, including the spread of waterborne diseases, dehydration, and malnutrition. Children, the elderly, and individuals with weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable to the effects of improper water purification, so it is important to take proactive measures to purify water and prevent illness.

Some common contaminants found in contaminated water include bacteria, viruses, parasites, chemical pollutants, and heavy metals. These contaminants can cause a range of health problems, from mild stomach upset to life-threatening illnesses, so it is important to purify water before consuming it, especially during emergencies.

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Water Purification Tips

To ensure access to safe drinking water during unexpected crises, it is important to take proactive measures to purify water and protect yourself and your loved ones. 

Here are some practical tips and advice for water purification in emergency situations:

1. Have a water purification plan in place before disaster strikes, including a supply of chlorine or iodine tablets, a portable water filtration system, and a stove or campfire for boiling water.

2. Check local water sources for contamination before consuming water, and prioritize purifying water from questionable sources.

3. Use multiple purification methods, such as boiling and using chlorine or iodine tablets, to ensure that water is safe for consumption.

4. Store clean drinking water in containers with tight-fitting lids to prevent contamination and ensure a safe water supply during emergencies.

5. Educate yourself and your family on the importance of water purification and how to purify water using various methods and techniques.

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Water Purification Safety Tips

To effectively purify water from natural sources and prevent waterborne illnesses in a survival situation, follow these steps:

1. Collect water from a flowing water source, if possible, as stagnant water is more likely to be contaminated.

2. Strain the water through a clean cloth or coffee filter to remove any sediment or debris.

3. Choose a suitable method of water purification based on the available resources and follow the instructions carefully.

4. Wait the recommended contact time after treatment to ensure that all contaminants have been effectively removed or killed.

5. Store the purified water in clean containers or bottles to prevent recontamination.


In conclusion, proper water purification is a non-negotiable necessity for survival in any emergency situation. Remember to prioritize water purification readiness in your survival preparations by stocking up on supplies, learning various purification methods, and practicing water treatment techniques. Don’t wait until it’s too late – start preparing now to ensure you have clean water when you need it most. Stay safe, stay prepared, and prioritize your access to clean water in any survival scenario.