Kidney damage not from E. coli: Walkerton study
Drinking too much water caused residents' kidney condition, researchers say
Nov. 16, 2005. 07:40 PM
Serious kidney damage shown by more than 200 residents of Walkerton, Ont., is the result of drinking too much water, not E. coli poisoning, and it's a problem that could be afflicting people across the country, researchers told The Canadian Press.
The "completely preventable" condition is one of the findings of a long-term health study into the tainted-water tragedy, a lead researcher said Wednesday.
Results of the four-year study, to be presented in Walkerton on Thursday evening, show that five per cent of the 4,400 residents enrolled have high urine volumes with pathological levels of protein.
Careful checking found the condition unrelated to E. coli-contaminated water that killed seven people and sickened 2,500 others in May 2000.
Research head Bill Clark said the condition was actually linked to residents drinking too much untainted water — a problem that is not exclusive to the midwestern Ontario farming community.
"We suspect that this is not unique to Walkerton," Clark, a kidney expert in London, Ont., said in an interview.
"We think that this occurs in the Canadian population and may provide for some of the unexplained chronic renal failure that we see."
Drinking too much water can similarly flush proteins from the body. Just how much water is too much varies from person-to-person, depending on factors including body weight.
The ongoing study also confirms that those who fell ill from tainted water have an increased incidence of both kidney disease and high blood pressure.
That suggests the 20,000 Canadians who fall ill with bloody diarrhea from food poisoning each year due to E. coli contamination need annual monitoring for a few years even though they may appear healthy.
"Those people at the present time are not being followed up but all of those people probably need to have an annual assessment," said Clark.
"There are long-term complications from bacterial contamination that affect blood pressure and kidney function (but) the progress of those injuries is preventable if they're identified."
Town residents also appear to have a significantly higher incidence of diabetes due to E. coli, which is known to damage pancreatic cells that produce insulin.
However, final analysis of that data will only be complete in about three months.
The study also indicates that children who suffered severe kidney illness from the bad water are less prone to high blood pressure than their adult counterparts.
Still, about 10 Walkerton children show clear signs of kidney impairment, but are responding to treatment and likely won't get worse, said Clark.
On the positive side, latest results suggest the roughly 5,000 residents of Walkerton are continuing to recover from the disaster.
Eighty-four per cent of those asked now rate their health as good to excellent. Of those who rated it fair to poor, almost half said it had improved over the past year.
The study will now focus more on high blood pressure during pregnancy, inflammatory arthritis, and the role of genetics in the progression of irritable bowel syndrome to inflammatory bowel disease.
I'll stay away from the water... pass me another beer!