A couple years ago my friend contracted beaver fever while up north hunting Bison. The result of a drink from contaminated water resulted in a stay in the hospital for almost two months and it just about killed him!
If you want to avoid the same fate, you need to be sure the water is safe and free of contamination of Giardia lamblia. This is a single celled organism that affects humans. Ingestion is the most common way to become infected, prevalent with back country hikers and travelers.
Boil it, filter it or treat the water to make it safe.
I am always cautious of the water I drink while out moose hunting or in the backwoods in general. Moose love water and consequently I often hunt near water. Beavers and muskrats also love water, and because these mammals are the prime carriers of Giardia I am careful. For the most part I carry drinking water with me.
All hunters, should add this precaution to their repertoire of moose hunting supplies.
I grew up in a small town in British Columbia where pristine lakes are nestled high in the mountains and the creeks that flow to the valleys below carry the purest water on the planet.
Anytime we hiked into the mountains there was no hesitation to drink from these clear, cold mountain streams if we were thirsty. The only concern we ever had was "brain freeze", a condition we all know or have experienced from drinking cold liquids.
Today would be no different, I would not hesitate to drink that water... there are no beavers up at those high elevations.
However; dropping down to the valley bottoms... now that is a different story. Stagnant slow moving water that cannot clean itself of contaminants; never take it for granted that the water is clear of Giardia.
The most frequent symptoms of infection from beaver fever are: loss of appetite, tiredness and of course diarrhea. Prolonged infection will lead to weight loss as well as many other medical problems. If you suspect you are infected, seek medical attention as soon as possible.
Mammals such as beavers and muskrats are carriers of this organism that causes beaver fever. If you have concern the water you want to drink has been frequented by these animals you need to do one of three things before you drink it.
The age old way to make water somewhat safe to drink. Sure this will kill any organisms in the water but this method will not remove any harmful chemicals or particles. This also takes time and energy. You need to take the time to boil. This means breaking out your camp stove or building a fire… not always a convenient thing to do.
Chemical Water Treatments
There is also the option of using chemical drops or tablets to purify the water. Typically you add a few drops from two separate chemicals, wait a period of time (20 -60 minutes), and the water is safe to drink. Chemicals, like boiling will not remove particulates and may not kill all organisms that may pose a threat.
One of the tricks to using chemicals is when treating the water, loosen the cap from your container and shake to allow the chemically treated water to get up under the cap and onto the threads to cleanse those areas too.
Water Filter Systems
Water filtration systems come in many configurations and of course the price will vary depending on the fineness of screen required and the volume of water anticipated to filter. The nice thing about portable filters is if you have one with a fine enough screen you can safely drink water from just about any source.
Be sure to follow the manufactures instructions, because it is easy to contaminate the water you just filtered if you do not follow the correct procedure.
The water filter systems have the capability to remove the most contaminants and make the water the safest.
Disadvantages to filter systems are: weight, bulk and filters can become plugged, necessitating cleaning. They can also be slow in accumulating the water you desire.
When I am out moose hunting I carry clean water with me. If I run out I will only drink water I am certain is safe and free from beaver fever. Otherwise, because I carry chemical with me, I will treat the water to make it safe enough to drink.
If you are not big on using chemicals then having your own water filter system with you can save the day. If you are considering traveling where water is or could be contaminated the Katadyn water filter system is one of the best in the world. Back country travelers everywhere use and rely on these compact and reliable system to keep them safe. I highly recommend this product available at Cabelas.
Being infected with beaver fever is no picnic. When traveling the wilderness where Giardia resides, take precautions against these organisms.