Faculty of 1000

Post-publication peer review

Have we overlooked the drinking cup?

Posted by Callum Anderson on 3 March, 2010

One of the things I love about scientific knowledge is that it is always in a state of flux. Theories are constantly being amended, rejected or confirmed by the community. In short, there is always room for more research regardless of how well trodden the ground may be.

In this vein, I read an interesting paper, evaluated by Faculty of 1000 member Phil Fischer (link to evaluation free for 3 months).

Simonne Rufener and a team based jointly at the University of Bern, Swiss Tropical Institute in Basel and Institute of Aquatic Sciences and Technology at Dübendorf have published a field study which expands significantly on previous research.

Every year, some 1.6 million people die due to diarrhoea associated with contaminated drinking water. In countries without running water, where drinking water must be collected at source, plenty of research has shown that the water is often contaminated at various stages before consumption, even if the source is relatively free from contamination (see here, here, and here).

The paper hypothesizes that in-house recontamination of drinking water after treatment is a significant, often overlooked problem in the developing world. The team visited 81 households in Bolivia and took 347 water samples from current sources, treated water, transport vessels and drinking vessels. Looking at levels of E. coli at various stages of the water journey, the Rufener and his team were able to show that disinfection at source, or even at home prior to consumption, did not effectively reduce bacteria levels. In fact the paper makes the point that even after home based water treatment such as boiling or SODIS

Only 36% of the treated water samples were free from E. coli

The real conclusion to acknowledge is that disinfecting water at source or at home will continue remain a relatively ineffective treatment while the majority of drinking vessels are still contaminated with E. coli. In the future, we may find solutions which combine water-source interventions, with effective hygiene education to help reduce levels of bacteria in the drinking cup itself.

Rufener S et al J Health Popul Nutr 2010 28 :34-41

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