Can I get used to Mexican water?

I’m just a regular American guy who has had access to chlorinated, bug-free water his whole life. It’s my understanding that if I were to head south of the border and drink from the taps that I’d have a very good chance of adopting some new pets who would happily infest my digestive tract with unpleasant (to me) results. I reckon I’d have similar issues if I drank from the Ganges in India.

So let’s say I want to travel in these parts and I don’t want to be hassled with water purification systems or toting around bottled water. Would it be possible to intentionally ingest the local pathogens and deal with the consequences in the comfort of my own home? And then once I’ve recovered, tromp the wilds of Mexico or India secure in the knowledge that I’ve adjusted my tubing and need expect no water-related problems? If so, how long would I remain “accustomed” before reverting back to my tender gringo physiology?

A guy I used to work with would always go to someplace new and would intentionally drink the water. He wouldn’t drink a lot, just enough to intentionally make himself just a little bit sick. That would be enough for his immune system to figure out how to deal with the local bugs, and after that he would be fine.

I can’t say that this will work for everyone, but this guy claimed it worked very well for him.

No, you cannot acquire immunity to cholera, dysentry, or dozens of other water-borne pathogens. There is some pretty horrifying shit in water around the world. You definitely don’t want to try this experiment in Africa.

I initially read this as “Can I get **used **Mexican water?”

the mind reels…

Yeah, but you wouldn’t catch cholera from a Mexico City tap, right?

I guess this is part of my question. Obviously there are perils in other parts of the world that don’t threaten the average 'merkin. India’s got tigers, Mexico has it’s legal system, etc. Cholera is pretty indiscriminate like those as I understand it. But there’s other stuff like amoebas. etc. that I can count on having to deal with.

I think that a lot of the hype around water impurities (at least in Mexico and other CA/SA countries) is inflated. I’ve mostly stuck to “civilized” areas (Mexico City, Cancun, etc), but have spent some time in the rainforest in Brazil, as well as some semi-remote areas in Ecuador, Peru, and Argentina.

Even the locals were concerned in all of these cases - I was warned not to eat raw fruit, drink unbottled water, etc. Never had a problem.

Admittedly, though, in a few cases (depending on my mood, I can be a hero or a coward) I was traveling with Cipro “horsepills.”

The locals might seem like they have acclimated to the water but many still have low grade infections, sicknesses, and parasites. The general health is poor. Don’t mistake sickness for “laid-back” or low energy levels in people. I’ve been in plenty of [del]shitholes[/del] developing countries. Don’t drink or eat the raw/uncooked stuff. Fruits you can peel are generally okay though.

This. Also, remember waterborne illness is a major killer in the developing world. If you ask how people live with low water quality - well, a lot of them don’t. Dysentary and cholera are particularly effective killers of children, but adults can and do die of them. UNDP, USAID, and any number of NGOs put a lot of effort into basic sanitation development for precisely this reason. I don’t know if the world will beat a path to your door if you build a better mousetrap - but if you build a better latrine or water filter along with a plan for distributing the tech and getting it accepted by the locals, you’ve got a good shot at some respectable grants.

Just get one of these things. Good for a year’s worth of water and can only weigh a few ounces.

There are two ways that water can make you sick.

One is just a new set of not-particularly-dangerous bacteria. This can happen even in places with safe water supplies, and is why locals can sometimes drink the water when newcomers can’t. This you can get used to. I’d imagine the water in Mexico City is more along these lines, but you’d have to research to know for sure.

The other is when there are disease-causing pathogens in the water, and this you can’t get used to. A lot of people in this world have diarrhea basically all the time, and diarrheal diseases are still a major killer among children. A healthy adult with access to medical care is unlikely to die from bad water (although there are indeed a handful of really horrific things that can happen) but they will spend a lot of time pretty miserable.

Living as a Peace Corps volunteer in Cameroon, we were supposed to boil and filter our water. Some people did this. Most gave up on boiling and just filtered. A few just drank whatever and hoped for the best- it’s hard to refuse a nice cup of water from a neighbor when it is 120 degrees out.

All of us were sick some of the time. Those with bad habits were sick quite a bit more. Now and then someone would get typhoid or something really nasty and would have a few bad weeks. There were a few horror stories (the guy who got eggs laid in his brain!) but those were relatively rare. So while you could choose to drink the water and most likely be fine in the end, you will probably get sick a lot more often and be accepting some degree of serious risk.

Watching the locals can be a good way to understand the risks- many cultures have developed habits like peeling fruit, drinking boiled water, etc. But it’s not always reliable. It could be that they can’t afford the fuel to boil water, or that they are engaging in practices that were fine 20 years ago when they lived in remote villages but are problematic in urban areas.

What makes you think they even drink it? Bottled water is big in Mexico, and there are tons of places that sell large jugs of potable water. It gave me the impression when I visited that even Mexicans don’t drink the tap water there.

When my aunt spent a month in South Africa she was told, by here doctor (here), not to consume anything that hasn’t been boiled or peeled.

Seconded! Tap water systems seem to be built with the expectation that people will drink bottled water and sterilize the dishes after washing. Most of the water supply comes from groundwater of questionable quality and is poorly filtered, if filtered at all. It’s not uncommon (at least in the desert areas) to store water in a cistern on top of the house and have a gravity fed system to supply the home. Sewage (again in the desert areas at least), is sent to a septic tank without a drainfield, and the tank may be too close to the a water well for comfort or safety.

I think that people will generally tell you if the water is safe to drink. After all, they don’t have anything to lose by saying so.

I lived in laredo TX for a several years back in the 1980’s. The locals on both the US and Mexican sides of the border drank bottled water almost exclusively. Everybody I knew had one of those things like an office water cooler in their kitchen and had drinking water delivered to their homes. I screwed up and drank a frozen margarita in Nuevo Laredo without checking to see if the ice was made from bottled water. Perhaps I assumed the tequila would kill any pathogenic bacteria; if so, I was wrong. Days of runny, bloody stool resulted.

My encounter was with a Bloody Mary in Rosarita Beach, but the same result. The previous week of sailing had been nothing but beer and bottled water. Slip up once, and the bugs will get you!

Years ago, I took a trip to Mazatlan. I went into Sr Frogs to have a beer. Well, they freeze a half inch of water in the glass which I didn’t discover until I had drank a couple of good swigs of the beer. Yup, that night I was sick as a dog and had to go to a clinic the next morning. They gave me some medicine which made me feel well again. Wow, was I ever sick to my stomach during the night.

I don’t understand; why would they do this? Keep the beer cold?

When I went to Mexico back in 1997, the hotel I stayed in on the first night supplied giant bottles of water to use for even brushing your teeth. I saw locals with bottles of water all the time, so I’d think that no one uses the water for anything other than bathing, washing clothes, etc. Never to be ingested.

I still managed to get a parasite of some kind that took two different medications to get rid of, but I think it was from what I ate my last night there. I still can’t decide if the deliciousness of the meal was worth the two weeks of intestinal distress…

The accounts here suggest a few questions:

  1. When wealthy travelers to Mexico City or Lagos or Nairobi or Bangkok stay in the ritziest hotels money can buy, how’s the tap water in those places? Or do even the swankiest places put their customers on bottled-water regimens?

  2. The very wealthiest citizens of Mexico, Nigeria, etc – the Carlos Slims and the like – how’s the tap water in their personal homes? Do they shell out for private purification? Or are they just so used to bottled water that it’s not considered an inconvenience?

  3. Before bottled water became ubiquitous – say, in the 1960s & 1970s – what did wealthy travelers in the Third World do? Ensure that their water was always boiled or otherwise treated? How did high-end resorts and hotels handle this problem 40-50 years ago?