Memphis doctor says water contamination health risks threaten young children and seniors most

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MEMPHIS, Tenn. — As stoves get to work boiling water all over the MLGW service area, doctors want to be honest.

“These kinds of illnesses are very dramatic causes of death in third world countries,” said Dr. Stephen Threlkeld, an infectious disease specialist at Baptist.

But he is also realistic with those under the boil water advisory.

“The reality is most illness from water tends to be moderate diarrheal illness which is not threatening if young or middle aged healthy person,” Threlkeld said.

But for children and the elderly, the risk is a lot higher.

When pipes burst from the cold like we saw earlier this week, the water pressure goes down. As a result, bacteria has an easier time multiplying. Sewage can also seep into the pipes.

Those all can cause gastrointestinal issues that lead to dehydration.

“Babies and young children who are unable to control telling you when they’re thirsty are most at risk for this situation. The elderly because their heart and lungs aren’t as strong as someone at a younger age,” Threlkeld said. “Mostly it’s a gastrointestinal issue that is, for the most part, a diarrheal sickness.”

Fever and vomiting are also symptoms. If you have them for more than one day, call your doctor. You may want to consider going to the hospital.

To prevent getting sick, don’t drink any straight tap water without boiling. Remember that also includes in ice, coffee and when brushing your teeth.

If your water is coming out brown, don’t drink it at all. Let it run until it gets clear and then boil it.

You can use unboiled tap water to wash your hands but use sanitizer afterward to be safe, Threlkeld said.

Health Department officials say the boil water advisory is a precaution as of Friday.

“We have not detected any contaminants in the water supply,” said David Sweat, chief epidemiologist with the Shelby County Health Department.

Threlkeld said Baptist hadn’t seen anyone with symptoms, but they would take at least two days to become apparent in someone who drank contaminated water.

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