As boil water mandates continue across Texas as a result of the winter storm, a Baylor College of Medicine infectious diseases expert discusses why it’s important to follow these guidelines.
“Typically, our municipalities have a system in place to make sure that the water is not contaminated with bacteria that could cause disease, but when a situation occurs where they cannot assure that these systems are in place, it’s important that we take precautions in case our water sources have become contaminated,” said Dr. Stacey Rose, assistant professor of medicine in the section of infectious diseases at Baylor.
If the water source is compromised, bacteria such as E. coli may become present in the water at unsafe levels, causing symptoms such as diarrhea, fever, nausea and vomiting, Rose said. It’s also possible for fungal organisms to be present in the water.
Rose emphasized that though these microorganisms haven’t been confirmed in any of the water sources yet, it’s important to take precautions when municipalities cannot verify that systems are in place to protect the water supply.
Be sure to use boiled water for cooking, drinking and brushing your teeth, she said. Rose also cautioned not to let water get into your mouth when showering and avoid brushing your teeth in the shower. If possible, she also recommends using boiled or bottled water to wash your face so that bacteria don’t come into contact with the mucous membranes such as lips and eyes. Though it’s ok to wash your hands with soap and tap water, consider using hand sanitizer afterwards. It is also good practice to wash dishes using boiled water or via a dishwasher that uses high temperatures to sanitize surfaces.
Rose said that these microscopic organisms are not visible to the naked eye, so even if the tap water is clear, it’s still possible for bacteria to be present.
If you experience symptoms such as diarrhea, fever or vomiting, consult your primary care provider. If you are not able to keep food or liquids down due to vomiting and diarrhea, seek care immediately.
It’s important to stay tuned to your municipality’s restrictions over the next several days, Rose said. Once they perform additional checks to their systems, they will notify the community when the boil water notice has been lifted.