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How do I get safe drinking water while on vacation?

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Is it safe to drink the water here?

Dehydration can make you feel very unwell, and has the potential to ruin your holiday. It can also make existing health conditions worse. So, it’s important to drink plenty of water, particularly if conditions are hotter than you are used to. But safe drinking water is a worry abroad, as not every country has a water supply as safe as Canada’s.

Drinking or swallowing unsafe water while showering, swimming or cleaning your teeth can lead to illnesses such as:

  • cholera
  • salmonella food poisoning
  • hepatitis A
  • giardia
  • cryptosporidiosis
  • polio

All of these are unpleasant in the short-term, which could spoil your holiday, and they can even result in long-term illness that requires time off work.

Can I get vaccinated against waterborne diseases?

There are vaccines available for some waterborne diseases, including cholera and polio and hepatitis A. But although vaccines give an excellent degree of protection, they can only ever reduce your risk of getting ill. And they cannot protect against diseases like giardia and salmonella. So even if you are vaccinated, you still need to seek out safe drinking water.

Six to eight weeks before you travel, make an appointment with Canadian Travel Clinics to find out more about the vaccines that can protect you from waterborne diseases.

If you have concerns about drinking water at your destination, you can ask your travel health consultant for advice at your appointment.

What water is safe to drink while travelling?

Water in factory-sealed bottles is a good bet while travelling – but if you are trying to minimize your plastic use, it is not such a great idea. Single-use plastic may also put pressure on local waste streams.

You may find it more convenient to treat whatever water you can obtain locally. Here are some methods of treating water to make it safe:

  • boiling
  • halogens
  • filtration
  • UV radiation
  • salt electrolysis

Outdoor shops sell equipment for water treatment. The Government of Canada has some water treatment advice for travellers.

Bringing a water bottle or two with you will allow you to carry safe water wherever you go – but make sure you have some method of cleaning it.

Hot fresh tea is often a safe choice of drink because it is made with boiling water.

Watch out for ice in drinks

Ice may be made with unsafe water, so it is best avoided. Also remember that salads and fruit should be washed in safe water before you eat them.

How do I stay safe from waterborne diseases while washing and swimming?

You can be exposed to pathogens that cause cholera and hepatitis A while cleaning your teeth or showering. Keep your mouth shut in the shower, and use treated water to clean your teeth.

Wild swimming may also put you at risk. Think before you jump in. Ask residents where it is safe to swim, and avoid industrial areas, and obvious drains.

You should be safe enough swimming in a well-maintained chlorinated swimming pool, but if it looks soupy, it’s best avoided.