11 Waterborne Diseases

Symptoms and prevention of waterborne diseases!

Water is certainly the quintessential source of life, but if it is not in optimal conditions for drinking, it can become a dangerous trap for our health. Today I want to tell you about 11 waterborne diseases that you should protect yourself from.

With the potential to harbor pathogens that can cause serious harm to the human body, careful precautions must be taken to determine when it is safe to drink and when it is not.

The World Health Organization states that more than 3.4 million people die from waterborne diseases each year, making it the leading cause of illness and death in the world.

The pathogens responsible for these diseases come in the form of viruses, bacteria, or protozoa, all of which are invisible to the naked eye.

In this article, we have covered the 11 most common waterborne diseases, their symptoms, and their causes, along with the purification method that can best eliminate them.

Virus

Viruses are infectious agents that are highly diverse in shape, structure, and behavior, and can only replicate when inside the cell of an organism.

Once the nucleus of a cell is infected with a virus, that infected cell reproduces identical copies of itself at an alarming rate, with the ultimate goal of taking over the entire system.

Viruses can infect humans, animals, plants, and even bacteria.

A healthy human body will mount an immune response to a viral infection, ultimately eliminating the virus. These immune responses can also be produced by vaccines that create immunity to specific viruses.

Although antiviral medications can be used to treat viral infections, antibiotics do not affect viruses.

Pathogen: Norovirus

Illness: Gastroenteritis (Traveller’s Sickness)

Effective methods of water purification:

  • iodine treatment
  • Solar Purification
  • Boiling
  • Distillation
  • Chlorination
  • Inverse osmosis
  • Ultraviolet light

Gastroenteritis infects between 20% and 50% of international travelers each year.

Norovirus, the virus responsible for the estimated 10 million cases of diarrhea each year, is a highly contagious disease that attacks the digestive system and is usually spread through infected food and water or by contact with infected surfaces.

The virus, once inside the body, disrupts the digestive tract causing loose stools and abdominal cramps. The intestines and stomach become inflamed, causing severe stomach pain, nausea, diarrhea, vomiting, and fever.

Symptoms usually develop 12 to 48 hours after infection and subside after 1 to 3 days with a healthy immune system.

The virus is more likely to cause dehydration in older adults, younger children, or those with other illnesses due to excessive vomiting and diarrhea.

Pathogen: HAV (hepatitis A virus)

Disease: Hepatitis A

Effective methods of water purification:

  • iodine treatment
  • Solar Purification
  • Boiling
  • Distillation
  • Chlorination
  • Inverse osmosis
  • Ultraviolet light

Hepatitis A is a contagious liver disease that is usually spread through fecal matter in contaminated food and water. Those who travel to places where hepatitis A is common and are not treated properly are at a much higher risk of infection.

Symptoms can be mild, last for several weeks, or be severe enough to last for months. They usually occur within 2 to 6 weeks of infection and may include tiredness, muscle pain, loss of appetite, fever, stomach pain, light-colored stools, dark-yellow urine, and yellowish skin.

In rare cases, hepatitis A can cause liver failure and death, but it is more common with the elderly or with compromised immune systems.

The antibodies produced as a result of the infection last a lifetime and help protect the body against reinfection with the virus.

protozoa

Protozoa are unicellular eukaryotes that feed on organic matter and can be free-living or parasitic. They are similar to algae but too small to be seen without a microscope.

Parasites are a type of protozoa that thrive at the expense of a host and generally inhabit fecal matter. They can often live inside a host undetected for long periods due to their hardy nature.

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Pathogen: Cryptosporidium

Disease: cryptosporidiosis

Effective methods of water purification:

  • Specified Filters
  • Boiling
  • Distillation
  • Inverse osmosis
  • Ultraviolet light

Cryptosporidiosis is a diarrheal illness caused by a microscopic parasite called Cryptosporidium. This parasite is protected by an outer shell that allows it to survive outside the host for long periods, making it resistant to chlorine treatment.

“Crypt,” as both the parasite and the disease are commonly known, lives in the intestines of infected humans and animals and is carried through feces.

It is usually spread by coming into contact with water that has been contaminated with fecal matter containing the parasite.

Crypto is recognized as one of the most common waterborne illnesses in the United States, with an estimated 748,000 cases annually.

Although generally found in both recreational and drinking water, the virus is also spread through dirty pool water, contaminated uncooked food, and close contact with infected people or animals.

The most common symptoms of infection are stomach cramps, watery diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and weight loss. Symptoms usually start 7 days after infection and can last up to 2 weeks.

People with weakened immune systems are likely to develop more serious and even fatal illnesses.

Pathogen: Giardia

Disease: giardiasis

Effective methods of water purification:

  • Specified Filters
  • Chlorination (45 min.)
  • Iodine treatment (50 min.)
  • Boiling
  • Distillation
  • Inverse osmosis
  • Ultraviolet light

Giardia is a highly communicable microscopic parasite that is usually found in soil and contaminated human feces.

Although its main mode of transmission is through contaminated water, it is also typically found on food and unsanitary surfaces.

Like Crypto, Giardia also has a protective shell, which allows it to survive harsher conditions and makes it more tolerant to certain disinfection methods, such as chlorination.

To kill Giardia through chlorination, allow the water to sit for 45 minutes, instead of the standard 30 minutes. For iodine, it’s 50 minutes.

Giardiasis, the disease that causes Giardia, is a global disease. It infects 2% of adults and 6 to 8% of children in developed countries around the world, hospitalizing about 5,000 people in the United States each year.

Children in child care settings, outdoor men who drink unsafe water, and international travelers are at increased risk of Giardia infection.

Symptoms usually begin 1 to 3 weeks after infection and can include fatigue, vomiting, nausea, loss of appetite, fatty stools, diarrhea, bloating, excessive gas, abdominal pain, and headaches.

The bacteria

A bacterium, unique to bacteria, is a single-celled organism that lives as part of a colony whose numbers can run into the billions.

They are found in almost every environment on earth and can withstand a wide range of conditions and temperatures. Bacteria are not necessarily harmful to the human system.

Tens of trillions of microorganisms including more than 1,000 different species of bacteria are responsible for the proper and healthy functioning of our digestive tract.

Bacteria are extremely adaptable and can develop resistance to antibiotics over time.

Due to the increased amount of processed foods that humans have consumed in recent years, the bacteria in the digestive tract have adapted to use both organic and inorganic material as a food source.

Pathogen: Campylobacter Jejuni

Disease: Campylobacteriosis

Effective methods of water purification:

  • Specified Filters
  • iodine treatment
  • Solar Purification
  • Boiling
  • Distillation
  • Chlorination
  • Inverse osmosis
  • Ultraviolet light

Although most commonly spread by eating raw or uncooked poultry, Campylobacter can also be spread through contaminated water, contaminated food, contact with animals, and drinking unpasteurized milk.

With a strong enough immune system, it is possible to show no symptoms after being infected. However, for those with weakened immune systems, such as people with AIDS, blood disorders, or those receiving chemotherapy, Campylobacter can spread to the bloodstream, causing a life-threatening infection.

The symptoms of the disease are diarrhea, fever, stomach cramps, and vomiting, and usually begin within 2 to 5 days after infection.

About 1 in 1,000 people infected with Campylobacter may develop GBS, a more serious illness that affects the immune system.

Most people recover from the illness within a week, although the bacteria can remain in stool for several weeks, posing the risk of further person-to-person transmission.

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Although not usually fatal, this bacterium is one of the four most common causes of diarrhea worldwide. Each year, it affects about 1.3 million people in the United States and 550 million people worldwide.

For unknown reasons, Campylobacter infection has increased in developed countries in recent years.

Pathogen: Legionella

Disease: Legionnaire’s disease

Effective methods of water purification:

  • Specified Filters
  • iodine treatment
  • Solar Purification
  • Boiling
  • Distillation
  • Chlorination
  • Inverse osmosis
  • Ultraviolet light

Legionnaires’ disease is a type of pneumonia caused by Legionella, a bacterium found in freshwater environments such as lakes and streams.

It becomes a health concern when the bacteria find their way into man-made water systems such as water tanks, hot tubs, plumbing systems, and showers and faucets. It thrives in water temperatures between 95 to 115 degrees Fahrenheit.

Unlike most waterborne diseases, Legionnaires’ disease is not transmitted by direct human contact, but rather through small droplets of water in the air or mist. A person becomes infected when water droplets are inhaled and enter the lungs. 

Legionella derives its name from its first outbreak in 1976 when 129 out of 2,000 people who attended an American Legion convention became infected. Among those infected, 29 died.

In the United States, there are between 8,000 and 18,000 reported cases of Legionnaires’ disease each year. About 10% of those who contract the disease die.

Many people who are exposed to the bacteria may not even develop the disease. However, there are risk factors that increase the chance of infection, such as older age, chronic lung disease, smoking, and a poor immune system.

Symptoms of the disease include cough, fever, muscle aches, shortness of breath, vomiting, and occasionally diarrhea.

There is no known vaccine to immunize against the disease. Taking clean water precautions, especially drinking water, is one way to prevent exposure. If infected, antibiotics and hospitalization will be required.

Pathogen: Shigella

Disease: shigellosis (dysentery)

Effective methods of water purification:

  • Specified Filters
  • iodine treatment
  • Solar Purification
  • Boiling
  • Distillation
  • Chlorination
  • Inverse osmosis
  • Ultraviolet light

Commonly known as dysentery, shigellosis is a highly contagious waterborne illness caused by Shigella, a type of bacteria that thrives in fecal matter.

Transmission can occur by drinking contaminated water or when a person puts infected material in their mouth. Frequent hand washing is an effective way to limit Shigella transmission.

Symptoms begin 1 to 2 days after exposure to the bacteria and resolve within 5 to 7 days with a healthy immune system.

Some may not show any symptoms at all but are still capable of transmitting it to others.

Infected people will show symptoms of fever, stomach aches, and diarrhea. Those most likely to get the disease are young children, travelers, and those with weakened immune systems.

Shigella bacteria can cause serious complications such as dehydration, rectal bleeding, and seizures in young children.

The most serious complication is death from contamination of the bloodstream. Of the 700,000 deaths each year, the majority of these deaths occur in developing countries where there are very few water treatment programs and where sanitation is a constant challenge.

There are an estimated 18,000 cases of shigellosis in the United States each year.

Pathogen: Salmonella

Disease: salmonellosis

Effective methods of water purification:

  • Specified Filters
  • iodine treatment
  • Solar Purification
  • Boiling
  • Distillation
  • Chlorination
  • Inverse osmosis
  • Ultraviolet light

Discovered by the American scientist, Dr. Salmon, Salmonella is a bacteria that thrives in fecal matter and is spread through raw meat, raw eggs, fruits and vegetables, and contaminated water.

People most at risk of infection are those who travel internationally, those who own birds or reptiles, and those with intestinal disorders and weakened immune systems.

Drinking water becomes contaminated when wild animals defecate in streams and rivers

People who develop salmonellosis will show signs of diarrhea, chills, abdominal cramps, and fever. The fever can last up to seven days and with adequate hydration, most people can recover without medical intervention.

Each year, of the 1.2 million people who become infected, 23,000 need hospitalization.

Pathogen: Salmonella Typhi

Disease: typhoid fever

Effective methods of water purification:

  • Specified Filters
  • iodine treatment
  • Solar Purification
  • Boiling
  • Distillation
  • Chlorination
  • Inverse osmosis
  • Ultraviolet light
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Salmonella Typhi is the bacteria that causes typhoid fever. Globally, it causes approximately 17 million infections and 200,000 deaths each year.

A subspecies of Salmonella bacteria, salmonella typhi can only affect humans and is more common in developing countries where hygiene is poor.

There are about 400 reported cases of typhoid fever in the United States each year, 75% of which are due to international travel.

Salmonella typhi grows in the intestines and blood and is spread through water or food contaminated with the feces of an infected person.

A typical contamination process is when feces, buried in the ground, come into contact with a nearby water source, usually a deep well.

The water supply, when contaminated, can also contaminate food. The bacteria can survive for many weeks in water or even dry sewage.

Symptoms may appear 6 to 30 days after exposure and can include fever as high as 104 degrees Fahrenheit, abdominal pain, lethargy, diarrhea, severe headaches, and poor appetite.

If not treated right away, typhoid fever can be fatal in up to 20% of infected people. When traveling to countries where typhoid fever is rampant, prior vaccination is recommended.

Pathogen: Vibrio Cholerae

Disease: cholera

Effective methods of water purification:

  • Specified Filters
  • iodine treatment
  • Solar Purification
  • Boiling
  • Distillation
  • Chlorination
  • Inverse osmosis
  • Ultraviolet light

Vibrio Cholerae is the bacteria responsible for cholera outbreaks. Cholera is a highly infectious disease that was prevalent in the 19th century when adequate water treatment systems were not yet available.

Although rare in the United States today, cholera is still widespread in developing countries with poor sewage systems.

Every year, about 150,000 cases of the disease are reported by the World Health Organization. With a mortality rate of 1%, cholera treatment has advanced significantly in recent years.

However, if left untreated, the chances of dying increase to 60%.

Once infected, common symptoms are diarrhea, dehydration, muscle cramps, rapid heart rate, low blood pressure, loss of skin elasticity, and excessive thirst.

Without proper treatment, death can occur within a few hours.

Pathogen: Escherichia Coli

Disease: Verotoxic E. coli

Effective methods of water purification:

  • Specified Filters
  • iodine treatment
  • Solar Purification
  • Boiling
  • Distillation
  • Chlorination
  • Inverse osmosis
  • Ultraviolet light

Escherichia Coli, more commonly known as E. Coli, is a type of bacteria that lives in the intestines of humans and animals.

Although most strains of E. Coli are harmless, some can cause serious damage in the form of verotoxin E. Coli, which infects about 100,000 people and kills 90 each year in the US.

Once infected, symptoms usually begin within 3-4 days of exposure and can include abdominal pain, diarrhea, vomiting, and fever.

People with healthy immune systems generally heal in 5 to 7 days. If left untreated, people with compromised immune systems can develop dehydration, intestinal infection, kidney failure, and death.

The disease is usually transmitted through unsafe handling of food and contaminated water. Poor sanitation can move bacteria from humans or animals into the water stream.

Conclution

Waterborne diseases are everywhere, but it’s up to us to make sure we take the proper precautions to reduce the risk of exposure.

Even though those in developed parts of the world are privileged with modern infrastructure and sanitation systems, there can never be a 100% guarantee that all the water we come in contact with will be free of pathogens.

A crack in a water pipe can put the entire water supply at risk of exposure.

When traveling, camping, or preparing to store water at home, it is essential to be properly aware of the potential risks.

When abroad, only drink water from reliable and properly sealed bottled sources.

If you are unsure about the quality of a water source, always err on the side of caution and avoid it or apply proper purification methods. Be vigilant and informed and keep yourself and your family safe.