Let Me Tell You About the Violent Diarrhea I Got From 'Raw' River Water

Going into college, I thought I understood all of the different ways poop could look. My digestion is generally bad, and my eating habits don’t help. But after returning from a four-day-long river trip, I realized just how naive a pooper I was.


You’ve probably read every raw water take possible by now, so here’s just a quick reminder. Con artists are trying to sell unfiltered, unsterilized water at a premium to rich idiots. It’s become a ridiculous trend among Silicon Valley types, like the idiot who brought you Juicero. They to find a market with people who think that fluoride in the water is a vast conspiracy—you know, the pseudoscience, anti-government, anti-vaxxer types. Perhaps they can sell some of the water to people who want to eat a lot of good bacteria. The problem is, raw water can contain parasites like Giardia and pathogenic bacteria like E. coli.

So, back to it. Almost every year since high school, I’ve taken the same three- to four-day trip down the Delaware River. Sometimes, you have to drink the river water out of desperation—but you always put an iodine tablet into it in order to clean it. Maybe I forgot to use the tablet, or maybe I just got water into my trail mix, but the day I returned from the trip, I was overcome with the need to poop. I assumed it was from my recent poor eating habits, but rather than looking like a healthy poop, what I produced looked like congealed deli mustard.

This horrible substance poured out of my body for days—regular diarrhea medication allowed me brief trips out of the bathroom for meals, but inevitably the horror would return. After a humiliating two weeks, I healed on my own.

Did I have the parasite Giardia, or some other river water-induced pathogen? I’ll be honest, I was too embarrassed to see a doctor, so I don’t have a diagnosis on my medical record. But Giardia is the most common harmful human parasite. And my greasy, pale poop, or steatorrhea, combined with my recent river tip is a telltale symptom.

I understand many people’s worries about tap water. There are small amounts of pharmaceuticals in it (though regular treatment removes most). There’s concern about radiation in it. In fact, you should be concerned about your tap water. Let’s not forget Flint, Michigan, where lawmakers began using water from the Flint River but didn’t properly treat it. This water leached lead off of pipes, exposing thousands of children to lifelong health problems from the toxic metal and causing the still-talked-about Flint Water Crisis.

But that doesn’t mean you should be drinking “raw water.” If you’re worried about your water, look for an NSF International certified water purifier. Call your legislators. It sucks that there are problems with tap water, but an insane rich person scam is not the answer.


Former Gizmodo physics writer and founder of Birdmodo, now a science communicator specializing in quantum computing and birds


If you HAD seen a doctor, they woudl have sent you home with one of these little kits to collect a sample to send.

Also, never let embarrassment keep you from seeking medical attention. Too many people are “embarrassed” and end up in the morgue. No matter what you have to tell them, you cannot shock or gross out a medical professional. They see things every day the rest of us cant even imagine, and to them its nothing.