While fly fishing the Southern Appalachian Highlands, you might be tempted to dip your bottle into that babbling brook and take a drink. That’s not a good idea unless you filter or treat this water. Experienced anglers follow a simple rule: unless the water comes from a faucet connected to a municipal water system, you should treat the water before drinking it. Untreated water may contain waterborne micro-organisms such as Giardia or Cryptosporidium—parasites that may cause intestinal infection and are found worldwide, including in most of the southern highlands. Giardia infection may cause abdominal cramps, bloating, nausea, and bouts of watery diarrhea.
How can you prevent waterborne diseases while trekking southern backcountry trout fishing spots? If you’re out just for the day, bring water from a trusted source. If you are backpacking in a really remote spot, odds are that, you’ll probably need to use water from untrusted sources. There are several good strategies for staying safe.
One solution is chemical treatments. Easily found chemicals are available that similar to the chemicals put in your water by municipal water systems. Two commonly used brands are Aqua Mira and Potable Aqua.
Water filters are another solution. Water filters purify water by pushing it through screens that take out the nasty bugs. Commonly used brands include Katadyn and Sawyer. Also effective in cleaning water is ultraviolet systems. These use ultraviolet light to eliminate the pathogens. One widely used brand is Steri-PEN.
Boiling water for at least 10 minutes is effective but not often practical because of the fuel you’ll need may not be available. Using clean water is not all that is needed to avoid Giardia and Cryptosporidium. It’s also important to keep your hands clean by using soap or an alcohol-based hand sanitizer and to wash your dishes with soap or detergent. If you believe you might have contracted a waterborne disease, contact a doctor or other medical professional and indicate that you suspect Giardia or Cryptosporidium infection.