How to Avoid a Water Parasite While Hiking

Doug Williams

So, you’re out hiking, and you’re a bit thirsty, there’s a lovely little stream, the water looks clear and delicious, so you go to get yourself some to quench your thirst…

Err, no, or as B. A. Baracus would say… “I PITY THE FOOL!”

Ok, if you’ve not drunk anything for a couple of days in hot weather and you’re on your last legs get that water down you, dealing with the consequences of a stomach bug are far better than not being alive, so, common sense needs to be applied at all times.


We look at dirty water and stay away from it; we think it’s got to be dangerous because it’s dirty, because of that some people think that the opposite is true, it looks clean, therefore it’s safe.

Those who hike often know just how dangerous water can be. Whether it’s bacteria or certain germs, they can prove very unpleasant if ingested. For those who are new to hiking, one of the major parasites that live in the water is cryptosporidium (crypto). In fact, these little pests are even found in some people’s homes.

If this parasite is ingested, it will cause diarrhea and probably nausea, vomiting, weakness, and dehydration. For some, this could put them in the hospital, on very rare occasions, where there’s usually an underlying existing problem, it can be deadly.

Once the parasite is done hanging out in your intestinal tract, it then passes out through feces and waits for a new unsuspecting host; thus continuing an endless cycle.

Generally, if you are healthy, it takes about two weeks for the parasite to pass by itself. However, if you have a weakened immune system, a doctor may prescribe anti-parasite medications, as well as tell you to stay well-hydrated to help flush the parasite out of the body. It is important to stay hydrated, especially when suffering diarrhea and vomiting.


So how does this particular parasite spread? It spreads through animals and humans defecating in the water. The parasite protects itself by making a hard shell around its body, making it resistant to certain forms of chlorine and chemicals used in filters. This little shell also helps the parasite live outside of the animal or human body for several hours.

This little parasite exists worldwide. It is microscopic so you cannot see it with the naked eye and can be found in any water source, even in what appears to be clean water. That’s why all outdoor water must be treated with some sort of chemical or filter.

Many scientists have studied the parasite and have tried finding ways to get rid of it in water. After much studying, they have found that iodine is not great at getting rid of it and neither do water treatment tablets.

To play it safe, anybody planning to use water from an uncertain source should buy some kind of filter that has a size of one micron or less. This is almost guaranteed to filter out crypto.

A UV filter does work for killing crypto; it stops the crypto from reproducing. There is also the ancient and simple technique of boiling the water for at least one minute, killing all bacteria in the water.

After being out in the wilderness for several days, you might need a wash or if you end up swimming you’ll be in the water so in both cases make sure that you do your best to not ingest any water or you might take in the parasite.

If a toilet is not available while on a hike, take special measures to dispose of waste properly so as not to spread the illness. Dig a small hole about eight inches deep, situated at least 200 feet from any water source, and then bury the waste right after and if possible burn any tissues etc.

If clean water is not available for hand washing, hand sanitizer is another option. It may not work as well as hot, soapy water, but it is better than nothing.

We all need to be cautious, even in the home. If you do not have a well-filtered water system, the parasite could get into the water. However, it’s quite easy to avoid infection from the parasite by simply washing your hands thoroughly and often.

Stay safe folks.

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fmssolution is one of the authors writing for Outdoor Revival