Tuesday 13 October 2009

Water Quality

A few words about the water quality of the river Cam and how to reduce the risk of catching anything nasty while rowing.

Firstly a quick read through various web sites and on-line databases suggests that the Cam is not in bad shape. The major pollutants are at acceptable concentrations and fish stocks are healthy…. However that is far from saying the water is safe to swim in or drink during a capsize/cox dunking session.


The most serious risk to your health is from leptospirosis which is “a bacterial infection resulting from exposure to the Leptospira interrogans bacterium. There is an acute form of human infection known as Weil's Disease, where the patient suffers from jaundice, though this term is often (incorrectly) used to describe any case of infection.”

Lots of good advice about reducing the risk of infection can be found on the web so, rather than attempting to re-write it here, I would like you all to read the ARA guidelines.

Those who found that insufficient will find lots more info at the leptospirosis information centre.

Finally, for pictures of the Bacteria, its effects and a rather smug looking rodent see: leptospirosis link.

In summary:

* Keep and cuts and blisters covered and dry
* Wash your hands before eating and shower after falling in.
* If you get flu like symptoms 1-3 weeks after an outing don't forget to tell the doctor that leptospirosis may be a possibility.

Cynobacteria and Gastro-intestinal illness

The ARA site also has guidelines on Cynobacteria and Gastro-intestinal illness which you should also read. Cynobacteria are unlikely to be a problem on the Cam which has a strong current. However, the Gastro-intestinal illness sections suggests that risk of these infections is increased if sewage is present in the water. Sewage does get into the river Cam, both from the outfalls of two sewage treatment plants, and from boats fitted with sea toilets, therefore you should all be aware of the risk and remember to wash your hands/shower after outings.

The one nice thing about these potential health risks is that they can be mitigated by simple measures, so now you are aware of them they shouldn't worry you unduly.

James Howard.

Page last reviewed 13/10/2011 WMC

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