Don’t do this

Trendy health things leave me cold. As humans, we haven’t gone for several million years without learning what we can and can’t do with our bodies, and what we can and can’t get away with. Contrary to what Professor Cookbook tells you, there’s nothing wrong with eating a carb. Contrary to what the water filter salespeople at the local mall will tell you, there’s nothing wrong with what comes out of our local taps.

They’re just trying to sell you stuff.

That’s not to say that water filtration is an entirely bad thing though. Water filtration is a very good thing, because if it didn’t happen, people would get sick. And so if you want to go and drink unfiltered “raw water”, you’re leaving yourself open to some nasty infections.

Yep. I mean, it seems a fairly easy thing for people to understand, right? But apparently not.

So why would anyone drink untreated, unfiltered water? Hasn’t we progressed enough that we can take advantage of the privileges of our Western First World Culture*? Well, apparently not, because someone decided to make probably the quickest and easiest buck ever by selling “raw water” to gullible idiots:

That is untreated, unfiltered water collected directly from freshwater sources that is often claimed—without evidence—to have health benefits.

Proponents have argued that raw water avoids undesirable components of municipal water, which they identify as disinfectants, fluoride, imaginary “mind-control” drugs, traces of pharmaceuticals, and heavy metals, such as lead from pipes. They also suggest, without evidence, that raw water can contain unique probiotics and other “natural” minerals and compounds that can improve health.

I think we all know on which side of Ou Kaapse Weg these people would live, were they in the Western Cape.

And yes, I know that you’ll claim that our ancestors survived drinking unfiltered water “and they were fine”, but the fact is that they weren’t necessarily fine. Managing to have several kids (many of whom wouldn’t have survived) and then dying at 30 years old doesn’t scream “success” to me.

The trouble is, not treating water means that bugs like… say… Campylobacter jejuni will still be happily swimming around in the stuff you’re drinking. If you’ve never experienced Campylobacter gastroenteritis, it generally involves watery, mucousy, bloody stools and a good deal of pain. All of which could be easily avoided by drinking filtered or treated water. Or – ironically in this case, at least – simply “cooking” your “raw water”.

Dirty water means disease – WE KNEW THIS IN THE 1850s, FOLKS!

Because yes, the water in the case above came from a concrete box next to an old railway line and underneath a birds nest. Which is ever so organic, isn’t it?

And the fact that this outbreak was picked up by the authorities after just six cases indicates how far we’ve come in being able to prevent diarrhoeal illness, thanks to (even very basic) modern technology.

Now, as my Uncle Alan would always ask of someone (usually me) after they had made a clear mistake:

Have you learnt anything?

Sadly, I doubt it.

* It’s worth noting that these fads are only ever popular amongst the people who have the money to be able to exercise a choice. No-one in the townships can afford the luxury of trying a low-carb diet. No-one in the Transkei would turn their nose up at safe, readily available, treated drinking water.

John Snow for the Ebola era

Here’s a very important point:

It’s impossible to treat an epidemic when you know next to nothing about the population it’s ravaging.

Just thought I’d plonk this here for your reading delectation. It’s a good starting point as to how the principles of John Snow and the Broad Street pump are still relevant and how they can be applied to the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, and also how and why that’s not happening.
The piece itself is unremarkable, but the sum of its parts and all that…

It’s an instance where the gloss of digital ubiquity hides our lack of real understanding. Where technological solutionism masks the fact that nothing has been solved.

A lesson for us all in how technological Utopianism isn’t always quite the flawless answer to everything. There’s a lesson for SA’s TB diagnostic progamme in there too, but I’m wholly unwilling to elaborate on that bit.