July 3 – Don’t Drink The Water

Today’s factismal: Beaver poop contains bacteria that can cause explosive diarrhea.

You have to pity the explorers who first wandered through the American Northwest. Sure, sometimes they got rich by finding huge nuggets of gold or by bringing back amazing piles of bird feathers. But most of the time, they died, often in horrible and disgusting ways. For example, many of the folks who wandered through the area that we now know as Yellowstone would accidentally kill themselves by jumping into the clear, blue waters of the area – only to discover that the water was more than 180°F!

Anyone for a nice, refreshing boil? (My camera)

Anyone for a nice, refreshing boil?
(My camera)

And then there are the hunters who would eat meat from the animals they shot. Though the muscles of many animals are safe to eat, the organs are not so good. As a matter of fact, the liver of a grizzly bear or a moose contains enough Vitamin A to kill a man! And if you think that eating plants is safer, think again. Elderberries are common in the northwest and most varieties contain glycoside which turns into cyanide when eaten; unless the berries are cooked properly, your first handful may be your last!

Ah, but at least you could drink the water, right? That pure, pure water, straight from the glaciers to your lips would be the coolest, freshest, cleanest tasting water you ever had (especially if you had lived in a town with a tanners). It could also have been the last water you ever tasted. That’s because lots of things live in the water and surprisingly few of them get out of it to go to the bathroom. For example, the common beaver, which was one of the most popular pelts to hunt, typically go while on the go as it were. So their poop sits in the water where the Giardia lamblia that infests it can get out. Though beavers have adapted to having these protozoans live in their intestines, humans have not. As a result, if you were infected by Giardia, you would have come down with diarrhea and abdominal cramps; in many cases, this could kill you particularly if you were already weak from your bear liver and elderberry diet.

Oh, dam! This water probably isn't safe to drink. (My camera)

Oh, dam! This water probably isn’t safe to drink.
(My camera)

Things are a lot safer today, but people still suffer from various diseases. And, just like it was back when we first explored the continent, it is explorers like you who are helping us discover new diseases and new treatments for old ones. Over at Patients Like Me, they help you keep track of your symptoms and offer a community of fellow patients where you can exchange ideas on treating your problems. To learn more, head over to:

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