Two weeks after bottled water from Malaysian brand Starfresh was recalled due to bacterial contamination, another recall due to the same bacteria has been conducted for a second manufacturer, Malee Mineral Water Sdn. Bhd.
While Malee Mineral Water’s website displays three brands of mineral water that it manufactures, the company has published a statement to clarify that these were not the brands identified by the Singapore Food Agency.
“Following the recent water quality issue highlighted by SFA, we would like to clarify that the water brands, Sukahati, Ro Fina and Still are not related to this incident and are not distributed in Singapore,” the statement said.
The bacteria, Pseudomonas aeruginosa, is a common environmental bacteria found in faeces, sewage and soil. It can multiply in water and on organic materials that are touching the water.
A 2000 research paper published in Nature (an international science journal), described the “opportunistic” bacterium as one that takes advantage of a person’s weakened immune system to infect it.
The paper noted that the bacteria is very resistant to common antibiotics and disinfectants that can typically eliminate environmental bacteria. A 2014 study also found that the bacteria was “highly prone” to growth in bottled water.
However, a fact sheet on water-borne bacteria published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) said contaminated drinking water was not a key source of infection for this type of bacteria.
“Although Pseudomonas aeruginosa can be significant in certain settings such as health care facilities, there is no evidence that normal uses of drinking-water supplies are a source of infection in the general population,” the WHO said.
High concentrations of the bacteria can, however, alter water’s taste, odour and turbidity.
The main route of infection, according to WHO, is through susceptible tissue and wounds. Cleaning contact lenses in contaminated water can also cause keratitis.
Nevertheless, skin infections, respiratory infections, and gastritis (inflammation of the stomach lining) could develop if someone who drank contaminated water was also taking antibiotics the bacteria was resistant to at the same time, a 2009 paper published in “Reviews of Environmental Contamination and Toxicology” found.
According to international health consultancy EHA Group, the bacteria can also cause infections in a healthy person’s urinary tract, intestines, soft tissue, and even their bones.
A third paper published in the journal “Reviews of Infectious Diseases” found that exposure to the bacteria was lethal for critically ill or immunocompromised people, such as patients with burn wounds, leukemia, pneumonia, cystic fibrosis (a condition where mucus clogs the lungs) or an intravenous drug addiction.
For these patients, the bacteria caused serious infections which lead to heart failure and death.