Old saris have a second use: They can protect people from a deadly bacteria in water.

For many of us here in the U.S., cholera is something we only know about from a book that we read in high school.

But for millions of people around the world, this disease is a very real threat to their health simply because they don't have access to clean drinking water.

So, what if there were an easy way to filter out cholera-causing bacteria from water?


Image via iStock.

That is exactly the question that marine microbiologist Rita Colwell pondered while she was on a research trip in Bangladesh.

She had been studying the bacterium that causes cholera, called Vibrio cholerae, for decades and had made a series of important discoveries about it with her colleagues. For example, they had learned the bacteria could survive in both fresh- and seawater and that it was the primary bacteria attached to copepods, microscopic crustaceans and plankton that live in water all over the world.

But up until then, their research had focused mostly on the bacteria and the environment where it was found — not on any practical solutions that might help people not get sick.

"It occurred to us, well, my goodness, in all the work we are doing, clearly we could do something for the village families who get cholera," Colwell says.

An electron microscope image of V. cholerae bacteria, which causes cholera. Image via Dartmouth University/Wikimedia Commons.

Cholera is a deadly diarrheal disease caused by the ingestion of contaminated food or water.

While this disease has been rare in the United States for over a century, it is still a serious problem throughout the developing world, including in Bangladesh, where access to clean drinking water can be difficult. In fact, according to the World Health Organization, between 1.3 to 4 million people get sick with cholera every year, and as many as 143,000 people die from it.  

In rural Bangladesh, where Colwell was working, cholera was a serious problem because women would scoop drinking surface water directly from canals, rivers, and lakes. There was no filtration, and there wasn’t enough fuel, like firewood, available for families to boil water every day.

Colwell and her colleagues realized that if they could devise a crude, inexpensive filter to strain the copepods (which the V. cholerae bacteria are attached to) from the water, maybe they could help people protect themselves from the disease.

They started by testing out T-shirt material, but that didn’t work. It was difficult to rinse, it didn’t dry, and a lot of debris in the water got through the weave in the fabric.

Then they tried sari cloth the same cloth that women in India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, and Nepal have worn for thousands of years. It's also a cloth that women in rural Bangladesh already were using to prepare home-brewed drinks.

Sari cloth has been used as traditional clothing for centuries in the region. Image via iStock.

It worked.

The sari fabric, when it was folded four times over the urns used to gather water, created a mesh filter that was effective enough to remove 99% of the bacteria attached to the plankton copepods that cause the cholera.

Not only that, but the cloth could be reused over and over again, making it a very practical and inexpensive solution. That’s because the cloth is light and porous, Colwell explains. "Because it rains — with monsoons — every day [there], the sari cloth is designed to dry quickly. So, what is nice about it is that you can unfold it, rinse it off, and then hang it up. It dries and then you can re-use it."

Colwell and her colleagues taught villagers how to make their own sari filters in 65 rural Bangladeshi villages, and over three years, she says, "we were able to show a 50% reduction in cholera."

Folded four times over a water collection urn, sari cloth can reduce the amount of cholera in drinking water. Image via iStock.

The team returned to the villages five years later and found that news of the filters had spread to other villages. As many as 75% of the population in these villages were using these filters.

And, Colwell says, they discovered something called the "herd effect" taking place — even if villagers weren’t filtering water themselves, fewer people were getting sick because fewer people were shedding the bacteria back into the water. "By virtue of all their neighbors staying healthy because they filtered," she explains, "they were not exposed to the larger numbers of bacteria themselves."

Of course, the filter isn't 100% effective at catching cholera-causing bacteria. Still, Colwell says there is power in this simple solution.

According to UNICEF, 663 million people do not have access to clean water around the world. Not only that, almost 2.4 billion people do not have access to adequate sanitation.  

There are a lot of high-tech solutions out there that try to address the problem of access to clean water, she says, and there are a lot of ways to work to combat the spread of cholera. But sometimes, it is the simple, inexpensive solutions — such as the sari filter — that can do a lot of good.

A view of rural Bangladesh. Image via Balaram Mahalder/Wikimedia Commons.

With more education about how the sari can be used, she says, it can make a difference for public health in regions where there isn’t access to clean water. Sari filters could even be useful in the aftermaths of large hurricanes, tornadoes, and other natural disasters all over the world, she adds.

Colwell and her colleagues hope to spread the word about sari filters to other places, such as Africa and other regions in Asia, where inexpensive solutions have the potential to make a big impact.

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Don't test on animals. That's something we can all agree on, right? No one likes to think of defenseless cats, dogs, hamsters, and birds being exposed to a bunch of things that could make them sick (and the animals aren't happy about it, either). It's no wonder so many people and organizations have fought to stop it. But did you ever think that maybe brands are testing products on us too, they're just not telling us they're doing it?

I know, I know, it sounds like a conspiracy theory, but that's exactly what e-cigarette brands like JUUL (which corners the e-cigarette market) are doing in this country right now, and young people are on the frontlines of the fallout. Most people assume that the government would have looked at devices that allow people to inhale unknown chemicals into their lungs BEFORE they hit the market. You would think that someone in the government would have determined that they are safe. But nope, that hasn't happened. And vape companies are fighting to delay the government's ability to evaluate these products.

So no one really knows the long-term health effects of e-cigarette use, not even JUUL's CEO, nor are they informing the public about the potential risks. On top of that, according to the FDA, there's been a 78% increase in e-cigarette usage among high school and middle school-aged children in just the last two years, prompting the U.S. Surgeon General to officially recognize the trend as an epidemic and urge action against it.

These facts have elicited others to take action, as well.

Truth Initiative, the nonprofit best known for dropping the real facts about smoking and vaping since 2000 through its truth campaign. We don't do PSAs. We also need to update so to explain truth – the nonprofit behind the truth youth smoking prevention campaign – you could also say this in a funny way – best known for sharing the facts about smoking and vaping or pull from some old campaigns. Just layer in a description of truth and who the campaign is., is now on a mission to confront e-cigarette brands like JUUL about the lack of care they've taken to inform consumers of the potential adverse side effects of their products. And they're doing it with the help of animal protesters who are tired of seeing humans treated like test subjects.

The March Against JUUL | Tested On Humans | truth www.youtube.com

"No one knows the long-term effects of JUULing so any human who uses one is being used as a lab rat," says, appropriately, Mario the Sewer Rat.

"I will never stop fighting JUUL. Or the mailman," notes Doug the Pug, the Instagram-famous dog star.

Truth, the national counter-marketing campaign for youth smoking prevention, hopes this fuzzy, squeaky, snorty animal movement arms humans with the facts about vaping and inspires them to demand transparency from JUUL and other e-cigarette companies. You can get your own fur babies involved too by sharing photos of them wearing protest gear with the hashtag #DontTestOnHumans. Here's some adorable inspo for you:

The dangerous stuff is already out there, but with knowledge on their side, young people will hopefully make the right choices and fight companies making the wrong ones. If you need more convincing, here are the serious facts.

Over the last decade, 127 e-cigarette-related seizures were reported, which prompted the FDA to launch an official investigation in April 2019. Since then, over 215 cases of a new, severe lung illness have sprung up all over the country, with six deaths to date. While scientists aren't yet sure of the root cause, the majority of victims were young adults who regularly vaped and used e-cigarettes. As such, the CDC has launched an official investigation into the potential link.

Sixteen-year-old Luka Kinard, a former frequent e-cigarette-user, is one of the many teens who experienced severe side effects. "Vaping was my biggest addiction," he told NowThis. "It lasted for about 15 months of my high school career." In 2018, Kinard was hospitalized after having a seizure. He also had severe nausea, chest pains, and difficulty breathing.

After the harrowing experience, he quit vaping, and began speaking out about his experience to help inform others and hopefully inspire them to quit and/or take action. "It shouldn't take having a seizure as a result of nicotine addiction like I had for teens to realize that these companies are taking advantage of what we don't know," Kinard said.

Teens are 16 times more likely to use e-cigarettes than adults, and four times more likely to take up traditional smoking as a result, according to truth, and yet the e-cigarette market remains virtually unregulated and untested. In fact, companies like JUUL continue to block and prevent FDA regulations, investing more than $1 million in lawyers and lobbying efforts in the last quarter alone.

Photo by Lindsay Fox/Pixabay

Consumers have a right to know what they're putting in their bodies. If everyone (and their pets) speaks up, the e-cigarette industry will have to make a change. Young people are already taking action across the country. They're hosting rallies nationwide and on October 9 as part of a National Day of Action, young people are urging their friends and classmates to "Ditch JUUL." Will you join them?

For help with quitting e-cigarettes, visit thetruth.com/quit or text DITCHJUUL to 88709 for free, anonymous resources.

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