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B.C.’s water may cause highest rate of stomach illness: health officer

VANCOUVER – British Columbians who think they’re suffering from stomach flu or food poisoning may instead have had drinking water contaminated with parasites, the provincial health officer said …. Dr. Perry Kendall told a news conference that for many years, British Columbia has had the highest rate of gastrointestinal or stomach illness in Canada.

While there’s no way to tell exactly what causes most of the stomach ailments, the water is the likely culprit, Kendall said, in releasing his annual health report for 2000. He also said people with diseases such as AIDS or cancer are especially at risk of contracting a water borne illness and should boil their drinking water.

Three quarters of the province’s water comes from lakes, creeks, rivers or rainfall, sources that are susceptible to contamination because they aren’t treated, Kendall said. That means parasites such as giardia and cryptosporidium, which are resistant to traditional disinfectants such as chlorine, aren’t removed.

At the latest count, British Columbia had 304 water systems on boil-water advisories, up from 220 last year, Kendall said. “Certainly, deaths from water-borne diseases are rare in developed countries,” he said.

“However, the seven deaths caused by (the bacteria) in Walkerton, Ont., are a reminder that complacency concerning our water systems does not simply increase the risk of stomach upset or missed days of work, complacency can kill.

“Across Canada, the demand for bottled water is increasing by at least 10 per cent a year, indicating that many consumers are quite willing to pay for their drinking water.”

Excerpts from BC Provincial Health Officer statement Nov 19, 2000.