Well Water Problems That Mimic 24-Hour Bugs, Food Poisoning

We all want our drinking water to be pure and healthy. The fact is, however, that it takes some vigilance to ensure that the water we provide to ourselves or our families is as good as we would like it to be. This is especially true in households supplied by private wells. A private well owner is all on his own—no agency regulates the quality of this water and no one monitors it other than the well owner.

It’s actually pretty easy for well water to become contaminated with either manmade or naturally occurring substances that don’t agree with us. These substances may make us think there’s a stomach bug making the rounds of the household. If the real culprit is a contaminant, then the right solution is to find out what the aggravating substance is and eliminate it as fast as possible! Otherwise, that “24-hour bug” could become a chronic complaint. 

Well Water Contaminants That Cause Digestive Upsets


  • E. Coli: In well water, E. coli can indicate that the water has been contaminated by human or animal feces. Effects include cramps, watery diarrhea, vomiting, fever, intestinal bleeding and possibly renal failure. A young or immunocompromised person has a greater risk of serious reaction.
  • Campylobacter: This bacteria can cause bloody diarrhea, fever, nausea, vomiting and stomach cramps. Symptoms start a few days after exposure and can last one week.
  • Enterococci: In our water, these bacteria can cause fever, headache, abdominal pain and nausea.
  • Leptospira: This bacteria can cause gastrointestinal symptoms including nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and abdominal pain.
  • Staphylococcus aureus: This bacteria may be found in rural well water and filters. Ingesting this water can result in nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and low blood pressure.


  • Closterium: This is a group of more than 100 species. Some types, such as Clostridium difficile and Clostridium botulinum, cause diarrhea, nausea, stomach pain, loss of appetite and fever.
  • Fusarium: These fungi produce toxic substances called mycotoxins which can harm both humans and animals. One type of mycotoxin causes vomiting and digestive disorders.


  • Giardia: This tiny parasite causes diarrhea, cramps and nausea. 
  • Cryptosporidium: In drinking water, this parasite can cause watery diarrhea, stomach pain, vomiting, fever, weight loss and nausea. Healthy individuals will often recover on their own but someone with a weak immune system may become seriously ill.  


  • Antimony: High concentrations of antimony can cause nausea, diarrhea and vomiting. It has no taste, smell or color.
  • Cadmium: Low levels may not cause problems but higher levels can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and muscle cramps.
  • Copper: High levels of copper in water can cause nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and stomach cramps. Infants and children generally suffer the most.
  • Hard water: Hard water results from elevated levels of calcium and magnesium in the water. Drinking hard water can cause gastrointestinal issues such as constipation, diarrhea, bloating, irritable bowel syndrome and other symptoms.
  • Lithium: Lithium is a naturally occurring metal used to manufacture batteries, aircraft and drugs. If it is present in your water in high levels, it can cause abdominal pain, diarrhea, nausea and vomiting. 
  • Manganese: Excessive levels of manganese in well water can cause stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, and diarrhea
  • Zinc: Zinc is naturally occurring but it is also used in the production of galvanized steel. When a galvanized coating deteriorates, zinc can wind up in drinking water. Drinking this water can cause nausea, vomiting, anemia and damage to the pancreas.


  • Diazinon: If this pesticide leaks into well water, the result can be weakness, headache, nausea and vomiting. 
  • Ethoprop: This insecticide used on food crops can cause nausea, dizziness and confusion. 
  • Nitrates: Nitrates can enter wells from fertilizer runoff, septic system leaks, and animal waste. Health effects such as increased heart rate, nausea, headaches, and abdominal cramps can result from exposure. 
  • Petroleum: Leaking storage tanks or pipelines can add petroleum to your well water. Short-term exposure can cause an upset stomach, vomiting, nausea, cramping and diarrhea.

How to Solve The Problem of Well Water Contamination

Until you know the exact cause, drink and prepare foods with bottled water. Then get your water tested as quickly as possible. Bacterial, fungal and parasite contamination will require immediate disinfection of the well. Other types of contamination may require well repair to keep contaminants from seeping into the well. Naturally occurring contaminants will require the right type of water filtration to eliminate them. 

Start with an accurate test of your well water. ETR Laboratories helps thousands of private well owners analyze their water problems with fast test results. Choose one of our water tests today and quickly discover the source of your well water problem.