A microscopic image of cryptosporidiosis in a stool sample. (Pixnio image)

Microscopic parasite found in Prince Rupert water affecting thousands

More than 12,000 residents affected by the boil water advisory issued Dec. 14

The City of Prince Rupert continues to be under a boil water advisory, and officials expect it to last another week.

On Friday, Dec. 14, more than 12,000 residents were notified that they must boil water for at least one minute until further notice after high levels of giardia and cryptosporidium were found in the city water.

Symptoms

Giardia is a microscopic parasite that can infect the intestines in both humans and animals — also known as ‘beaver fever’. Symptoms include diarrhea, gas, bloating, nausea and fatigue.

Cryptosporidium is also a microscopic parasite that can cause gastrointestinal infections with the most common symptom being watery diarrhea, as well as stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, a mild fever and dehydration. The infection is passed through feces, so people who have diarrhea should not attend work or school, or go to any public facilities such as the pool, where they can pass it on.

Northern Health said the boil water advisory was issued as a precautionary measure, and people should follow the guildelines set out by the City of Prince Rupert.

“The risk of health affects is low, for any questions contact HealthLinkBC or visit a physicians office,” said Eryn Collins, spokesperson with Northern Health.

The number for HealthLink BC is 811, and she said they are prepared to take calls from residents concerned with this particular issue.

HealthLinkBC’s site states that a person can be infected and have no symptoms.

However, symptoms tend to start from two to 10 days after exposure to the parasite, and can last an average of one to two weeks. For people with a weakened immune system, such as young children and seniors, the infection may last longer.

A water testing facility in Prince Rupert continues to monitor the levels of both crypto and giardia.

READ MORE: Boil water notice in effect for Prince Rupert

What to do

Until then, the entire city must boil their water for one minute for everything including washing the dishes, brushing teeth, washing and so on.

In a lengthy post by Mayor Lee Brain, he warns pet owners that they must boil their water, then let it cool, for their pets, and while it’s safe for adults and teens to take showers with untreated water, parents should sponge bath young children.

Prince Rupert resident, Dave Boyle, has three children and he said he’s been busy.

“Just a lot of boiling water. We constantly have a couple of post boiling. I don’t know what the cost of that will be,” he said.

Mayor Brain said that water filtration devices are not safe to use either.

Residents who have been drinking the boiled water say that they don’t like the taste.

“I’m drinking a lot of Powerade and it’s not good for me,” said Mamie Lawson. “Boiling is not as convenient and the tast after you boil it is funny.”

The colour of the water is notably yellow, but this is not unusual. The city’s water comes from an above ground lake and the tannins in the water cause the discolouration.

“Although we understand why the colour can be off-putting, in our case it has more to do with the source, rather than the quality of water,” Brain said.

Upgrades to the city’s water supply have been an ongoing effort by the municipality. Currently, water is being pulled from Shawatlan Lake, the city’s secondary water source, while the principal water source at Woodworth Lake undergoes necessary renovations. The water infrastructure is approximately 100 years old, and the dam is expected to be rebuilt in 2019.

While the city has applied for grant funds to improve its water treatment.

Businesses affected

Due to the advisory, Prince Rupert businesses are experience some setbacks.

At Tim Hortons, assistant manager Mila Johnson said they have to have an extra employee on shift who is solely in charge of boiling water.

“Hand washing policy is unchanged, we just have to pre-boil water before washing our hands in it,” Johnson said.

Tims has also shut down all their iced beverage stations, however they are still serving coffee.

“We double boil our coffee, once in the back to 100 Celsius then we manually add in the pre-boiled water to the coffee machine,” Johnson said.

“We tried to find solutions, but whatever we can’t do manually we shut down.”

How did this happen?

The last boil water notice was more than a decade ago. So how did this all happen? The city is blaming ‘Mother Nature’ — a dry summer followed by the recent storms. This has increased the debris in the water supply, and high levels of cryptosporidium and giardiasis.

Groups with high risks to cryptosporidium include child care workers and parents of infected children, people with lowered immune systems and chronically sick children.

Finding fresh water

While Prince Rupert is under the notice, the District of Port Edward is not. The district has its own water supply and treatment plant.

Chief administrative officer, Bob Payette, said if Prince Rupert residents want to travel to Port Edward to gather water, they can.

Councillor James Brown shared with the Northern View that there is safe free water at the Port Edward RV water tap on Skeena Drive, and for people to bring their own containers.

READ MORE: $16.5M Woodworth Dam replacement project moves forward



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Prince Rupert is under a boil water advisory for the next week. Residents who want to purchase water will pay up to $49.50 for a flat at some convenience stores. (Nick Laws / The Northern View)

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