Bottled water in Nairobi found contaminated with disease-causing bugs

By Gatonye Gathura

A lot of bottled water being sold in Nairobi is contaminated with disease-causing bacteria some resistant to several common antibiotics.

A recent analysis of 42 brands of   water at the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri)  showed more than a half were contaminated.

“The presence of different species of bacteria, including multidrug-resistant strains, in supposedly bacteria-free bottled water is of important public health concern,” says the analysis published last week (17th November).

These included 25 brands approved by the Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) for tax purposes and 17 brands banned by the authority indicating they are in the market illegally.

“Overall, 16 per cent of KRA-approved and 35.3 per cent of banned bottled water were contaminated with bacteria,” says the report published on the F1000 Research online platform.

The team also involving researchers from Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology had purchased the approved water brands from major retail outlets in Nairobi.

The non-approved brands were purchased from roadside or small retail shops in the streets of Nairobi.

Tests results, the report said had confirmed all the bacteria were resistant to at least one type of antibiotics while several were resistant to two or more antibiotics. Banned brands were likely to show more multidrug resistance compared to the approved brands.

This may mean if a person is infected with this type of bugs it could be difficult or expensive to cure them as they may need non regular treatments.

The high levels of contamination, especially in the banned brands, the report says indicates water being bottled directly from the taps and sealing it without any prior treatment.

The presence of a type of bacteria, E. coli, associated with human feaces, in some of the brands indicates either poor water processing or introducing flakes of human skin during the processes.

“A key outcome of this investigation is that some bottled water brands, including the top-selling and most expensive brands in Kenya, are contaminated with bacteria beyond the World Health Organisation recommended limits.”

The researchers say this high level of contaminated bottled water in the market is an indication of laxity by the government body responsible for monitoring and quality assurance.

“The Kenya Bureau of Standards is the Kenyan regulatory and monitoring authority for all water and packaged foods. Our results suggest, the need for improved capacity to properly regulate and monitor these products,” says the study.

The presence of the bacteria in bottled water which is heavily consumed by people including the elderly, children, and the immunocompromised, the authors say should not be taken for granted.

E. coli, Pseudomonas spp. and Klebsiella spp., were the most common bacterial types found in all the tested water.

Some types of E. coli may cause diarrhea, abdominal pain, fever, and sometimes vomiting. Other types can cause urinary tract infections, respiratory illness, pneumonia, and meningitis.

Pseudomonas spp. can cause skin and blood infections particularly in people with weak immune systems. Blood poisoning from this bacterium can lead to low blood pressure and possible liver kidney or heart failure.

Some strains of Klebsiella spp. can cause pneumonia or infection of the lungs. It can also lead to infections of the urethra, bladder, and kidney.

About Gatonye Gathura 47 Articles
Science Journalist

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