Potentially Disease-Causing Parasites Have Been Found in Portland’s Drinking Water Source

A new wave of concern has swept over Oregon, and its name is cryptosporidium. If you don’t know it, you should prepare to get familiar, because its presence within the source of Portland’s drinking water is something that should be of concern in the near future.

While it can get healthy people sick, it’s most dangerous when ingested by the immunocompromised, where in rare cases, it can actually be lethal.

Here we will get into the details of cryptosporidium, how it was detected in Portland’s water supply, and what you may be able to do to reduce your risk of getting it.


Cryptosporidium and Cryptosporidiosis

Cryptosporidium protozoan intestinal parasite
Cryptosporidium parvum parasites, the cause of cryptosporidiosis. The parasite develops in the protrusions (microvilli) of epithelial cells that line the intestinal wall. Severe infection causes the folds of the intestinal wall to fuse and atrophy. Infection typically produces mild symptoms of diarrhoea, fever and headache.

Cryptosporidium is classified as a microorganism, but many people find the word “parasite” to be more fitting.

If you are exposed to cryptosporidium, you are at risk of contracting a disease called cryptosporidiosis. It’s a very serious illness, with symptoms including vomiting, fever, diarrhea, and stomach pain.

If you happen to have a healthy immune system, you’re in the clear and won’t need to seek any medical treatment, as it will pass and you’ll recover back to normal in no time. If you don’t have a healthy immunity system, that’s where things get uncertain. See, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), those with severely weak immune systems are at legitimate risk of dying from such a disease. This can include people with AIDS, cancer, recent transplant patients, and those with inherited autoimmune disorders. These people, if exposed to cryptosporidium, can possibly contract a disease that is outright fatal to them.

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, they estimate that only a small percentage of the population in Portland could experience gastrointestinal distress from the disease.


The Detection

Bull Run Watershed Oregon - Detection of parasites

Water was collected from the Bull Run Watershed on Sunday, testing positive for cryptosporidium. The water was last tested back in May, and as of now, Portland Water Bureau does not treat water for cryptosporidium, although they are required to under drinking water regulations. The bureau is working to install filtrations that will keep the parasite out of drinking water, but said filtrations may not be ready until September of 2027, according to the compliance schedule issued by Oregon Health Authority. Until that occurs, public health officials have made sure to implement protections and monitoring on the watershed.

As of now, the water is considered to be safe to drink, but that can always change, so it’s important that you always keep yourself updated on the situation.

All the counties that receive water from the Bull Run Watershed are as follows: Burlington, City of Gresham, City of Sandy, City of Tualatin, Green Valley, GNR, Hideaway Hills, Lake Grove, Lorna Domestic Water, Lusted, Palatine Hill, Pleasant Home, Raleigh, Rockwood, Skyview Acres, Tualatin Valley, Two Rivers, Valley View, and West Slope Water Districts.

If you are unsure as to whether or not your area gets water from Bull Run, contact your water supplier and ask to make sure. With that, let’s get onto how you can reduce your risk of getting sick.


Reducing Risk

Reducing the risk of contamination - Portland water

As of writing this article, Oregon Health Authority and public health officials at Multnomah County strongly believe that the water is currently safe to drink. The general public does not need to take any serious precautions as of now, but it may not stay that way forever. We will let you know how to reduce your risk of contracting cryptosporidiosis.

First and foremost, if you are at all immunocompromised and your drinking water comes from the Bull Run Watershed, you need to consult with your doctor to talk about the safety of you drinking tap water, even if the water is considered safe to drink by the general public. If you are unsure about whether or not your water comes from the watershed, call your local water provider, as a few of them take their water from the same area. If you live with someone or know someone who is immunocompromised, make sure they’re updated on the situation as well.

If you are of the general population and you just don’t want to get sick, make sure you check in with your local news every day to see if there are updates on the situation. Here are some things to help you reduce risk in case the day comes in which the water becomes unsafe to drink.

  • Drink bottled water. This is the rather obvious one. If your bottle has any of the following messages on its label, it’s safe against cryptosporidium: reverse osmosis, distilled, filtered through an absolute 1 micron or smaller filter, or “one micron absolute.”
  • Boil water. Boiling water is one of the best tried and true methods for keeping your water clean. If you are going to use water for any sort of consumption, make sure you bring it to a roiling boil for over a minute, put a lid on it, and store it in the fridge.
  • Utilize a home distiller. A home distiller will remove cryptosporidium from your water with ease, but be sure to store it properly. Pour it into a clean bottle or a container with a lid.
  • Filter tap water. This way of cleaning your water isn’t as much of a guarantee as boiling water, but it can work, but only if you have the right filter. On the box/label for your filter, look for one of these phrases to know that your filter is able to weed out cryptosporidium: reverse osmosis, absolute one micron, cyst reduction, or cyst removal. Make sure that the wording on the packaging indicates that the filter is listed/labeled to NSF/ANSI standard 53 or 58 by an ANSI-accredited certification organization. Filters are also meant to collect the microorganisms in your water which do need to be changed. If you are immunocompromised, it’s best you have someone with a healthy immune system to change it out for you. If you don’t have that option, make sure to wear gloves.



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