Bacteria, the most numerous organisms on the planet, are of literally millions of different types. Bacteria are present in everything from water to food, and on objects one touches every day. Bacteria are among the smallest organisms on earth, but they can cause some of the greatest problems. Nearly all bacteria that come in contact with human are harmless but some types of bacteria are very harmful, particularly those from sewage, even when present in small amounts. At an early age, most people develop immunity to common bacteria. But people with damaged or undeveloped immune systems, such as newborns, AIDS patients, the elderly, and cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, are less resistant to disease and are more appropriate to become ill due to bacterial infections. Bacteria found in drinking water, they come from several sources.

Soil, surrounding the water system is the most common source. These soil bacteria colonize every available surface after entering the system, they grow and then continually slough off into the water. In addition, during construction and repair of water lines, and through cracks in pipes when water pressure fluctuates, bacteria can get into water. On a regular basis, harmful bacteria levels are checked by Municipal water systems. To test for all bacteria, since it is impractical, they test instead for the main sewage organism, called E. coli. The occurrence of harmful sewage contamination is confirmed by the presence of E. coli in water. This test is conducted by larger water municipalities in many times each day.

Bacteria can be described as either pathogenic or non-pathogenic. Pathogenic bacteria can overcome the natural defenses of body and invade healthy tissues. Additionally, “opportunistic” or “secondary” pathogens can cause an infection when an unusual opportunity, like an open wound or suppressed immune system, presents itself. Very few types of bacteria are pathogenic.

Some types of bacteria found in drinking water:

  • Salmonella – Salmonella causes most of food poisoning.
  • Shigella – Shigella is the cause of bacterial dysentery.
  • Vibrio organisms – Vibrio organisms cause human cholera, an extremely serious disease, if not treated quickly and carefully it can be rapidly fatal. Luckily, for at least 50 years, sanitation and disinfection practices have been so effective that there has been no water-borne cholera in the United States.
  • Yersinia enterocoliticia – Yersinia enterocoliticia is common in cold, clear mountain streams and causes mild diarrhea.
  • Campylobacter bacteria – Campylobacter bacteria lives in the stomach and intestines of humans and animals. One type of Campylobacter bacteria causes stomach ulcers. Although not likely to cause illness, nonpathogenic bacteria can cause other problems in drinking water.
  • Iron Bacteria – Iron Bacteria found in particles of iron, common in soil and surface water. They are a major cause of pipe corrosion.
  • Sulfur Bacteria – Sulfur Bacteria is the cause of the rotten-egg smell sometimes present in drinking water. Severe corrosion can be caused quickly by Sulfur bacteria. They are commonly found in stagnant or unused water mains and in dead-end mains.
  • Actinomycetes – Actinomycetes resemble mold and produce an offensive “musty” taste and odor.
  • Coliform bacteria – Coliform bacteria are common in the atmosphere and are usually not harmful. But, in drinking water, these bacterias’ presence is usually a result of a problem with the treatment system or the pipes which distribute water, and indicates that the water may be contaminated with germs that can cause disease.
  • Fecal Coliform and E coli – Presence of Fecal Coliform and E coli indicates that the water may be contaminated with human or animal wastes. Short-term effects, such as diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches, or other symptoms can be caused by Microbes in these wastes.
  • Turbidity – Turbidity has no health effects. But, it can interfere with disinfection and provide a medium for microbial growth. The presence of disease causing organisms may be indicated by Turbidity. These organisms include bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can cause symptoms such as nausea, cramps, diarrhea, and associated headaches.