Almost 60% of thru-hikers suffer from diarrhea which can last as long as a week and is typically a monthly event during a thru-hike. If this is severe enough it can lead to a string of zeros of the unenjoyable and unrestful variety. A recent study conducted on water sources in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park attempted to evaluate the risk posed by various shelters’ water sources. During the summer, ten shelters’ water sources were sampled and tested. Seven of these ten shelters were found to contain coliform bacteria. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) has a maximum contaminant level goal for coliform bacteria of zero per 100mL. The water sources which were positive for coliform were also tested for E. Coli and six of these also tested positive for E. Coli. Whether particularly virulent stains were included in these results was not an observation made by this study, so the risk of becoming ill from these colonies could not be assessed. The number of contaminated water sources was only three in seven in the fall, but a risk still existed. These results can’t be generalized to the overall trail since they were all within the park and not distributed along the trail’s route. Personal hygiene and cleaning methods for cookware are partial contributors to this illness, especially if cookware is rinsed in unfiltered water. Making the effort to use only filtered or treated water for drinking or cookware rinsing is indicated to avoid this inconvenient and possibly serious malady.
Reed BC, and Rasnake MS. 2016. "An Assessment of Coliform Bacteria in Water Sources near Appalachian Trail Shelters Within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park." Wilderness & Environmental Medicine 27 (1): 107-10.