13 Fatal Diseases Caused by Water Contamination (and How To Know if You’ve Got One)

Are you going to be traveling to a part of the world where water quality isn’t always guaranteed?

Do you sometimes fear that the water in your own home might contain contaminants you’d rather not think about?

Or do you just want to learn more about the potential effects of water contamination on people around the world?

Whatever your reason for being here, in this article, you’ll find plenty of information on 13 fatal diseases caused by water contamination. You’ll walk through bacterial, viral, and parasitic diseases that are often caused by contaminated water, and you’ll learn how to recognize them by their symptoms too. You’ll even find out how some of these can be treated, and how they can be prevented as well.

Even if you never plan to travel to a developing country, this water contamination diseases list can provide you with more helpful information than you might realize. There’s always a chance you could come into contact with these illnesses even in your own home or as close as the swimming hole down the street. Knowing the signs of these water contamination diseases can make a huge difference when it comes to timely treatment.

Now, let’s get started uncovering information about these terrible illnesses.

Water Contamination Diseases Worldwide

Around the world, water contamination diseases lead to widespread illness and death on a regular basis. While not every disease caused by water contamination is fatal, a huge number of them are. Unfortunately, many of the countries that face these diseases are also developing, which means they don’t have access to good quality health care and treatment options. These types of illnesses affect people on a global scale, however, and geography has little to do with it.

In just one example of widespread contamination-related disease, in Bangladesh, anywhere between 30% to 50% of the population since the 1980s has been afflicted with skin lesions caused by exposure to water contaminated with arsenic. It takes up to ten years for these lesions to occur, which means that this arsenic exposure has been going on for a long time. Recent water testing has made some strides toward solving this problem, but it still rages on.

Prevention:

Water contamination illness isn’t just a problem for developing countries, though. Even in the United States, these sorts of outbreaks still occur. For a couple of weeks in 1993, Milwaukee saw a significant outbreak of illness related to the digestive system. For a while, the problem couldn’t be pinpointed, but after 26% of the city’s population became sick, tests were ordered. It turned out that cryptosporidium was present in 30% of the water samples tested from the Milwaukee area, and even in ice made from that water.

In the next few sections, you’ll learn about the fatal diseases that may occur in individuals exposed to contaminated water.

Bacterial Diseases

Bacterial diseases are some of the most common when it comes to water contamination, but just because they’re common doesn’t mean they’re any easier to treat. Unfortunately, these diseases can very easily become fatal in the wrong circumstances, and they continue to take lives around the world, and even in the United States. In this section, you’ll learn about the five most common types of potentially fatal bacterial diseases spread through water.

1. Salmonellosis

water contamination disease

Symptoms

The most common symptoms of salmonellosis are fever, diarrhea, and stomach pain. They usually go away in about a week. Dehydration may occur in some cases, and in others, the bacteria may spread throughout the body and infect the blood stream.

Cause

Salmonellosis is caused by the salmonella bacteria. Every year in the United States, an average of 450 deaths occur because of this illness. There are many types of salmonella present in the world, but in the United States, two of them are more common than the others: Typhimurium and Enteritidis.

Risk Factor

Salmonellosis is caused by the salmonella bacteria. Every year in the United States, an average of 450 deaths occur because of this illness. There are many types of salmonella present in the world, but in the United States, two of them are more common than the others: Typhimurium and Enteritidis.

Treatment

Many people who have salmonella infections don’t even realize it, and they simply treat with over the counter medication for their symptoms. In severe instances, people may need to be hospitalized due to dehydration or severe spread of this disease.

Prevention

Always fully cook meat and eggs before eating it. Wash your hands after coming into contact with reptiles. Disinfect all kitchen surfaces after preparing raw meat. Don’t drink water from natural, untreated sources.

2. Shigellosis

 Shigellosis

Symptoms

Diarrhea, stomach pain, and high fever are the most common symptons of a shigellosis  infection. In rare instances, the disease may spread through the body and infect and blood stream. Severe diarrhea may lead to weakness, fatigue and dehydration.

Cause

Shigellosis is spread through bacteria known as shigella. There are four different types of this strain of bacteria, but only one is very common in the United States. Shigella dysenteriae, however, is responsible for widespread illness outbreaks worldwide.

Risk Factor

Young children and immunocompromised individuals are at a greater risk for contracting shigellosis. Visitors to developing countries are also at a higher risk, as are any individuals who come into contact with human feces.

Treatment

Diarrhea is usually treated by over the counter medications, while antibiotics may be used to treat the bacterial infection itself. Unfortunately, this type of bacteria is often resistant to antibiotics.

Prevention

Never swallow swimming pool water and don’t drink water from untreated natural sources. Avoid sexual contact with anyone who recently suffered from diarrhea. If you’re traveling to a developing country, wash your hands with soap frequently, and research ahead of time to determine how to get clean, fresh drinking water.

3. E. coli

large strain of bacterias

Symptoms

Watery or bloody diarrhea, stomach pain and cramps, and nausea and vomiting are the most common symptoms of E.coli infection. Bloody diarrhea is a sign that you need to seek medical attention.

Cause

E. coli is actually the name of a large strain of bacteria that contains several types. Some of these are relatively harmless, but others are not. They may be present in drinking water, raw meat, and a variety of other sources. This is usually what people refer to when they say they have “food poisoning.”

Risk Factor

Young children and the elderly have an increased risk of E. coli infection. Anyone who eats undercooked meat or drinks unpasteurized products may be at a greater risk as well. Those who take antacids regularly may not be able to fight this infection easily.

Treatment

Rest and plenty of fluids are the best types of treatment for E. coli. In developing countries, fluids aren’t readily available, which may make this disease much more severe than it is in the United States. Severe E. coli infection may require blood transfusions or kidney dialysis..

Prevention

Wash raw vegetables and cook raw meat well. Wash your hands often and never drink untreated water.

4. Cholera

 Cholera virus

Symptoms

Severe watery diarrhea is the most common symptom, and sometimes may be the only symptom, of cholera. Note that this diarrhea is much worse than diarrhea associated with many other diseases listed here.

Cause

A bacteria known as Vibrio cholerae is the cause of cholera infection. Unsanitary conditions and untreated water spread cholera rapidly. When cholera outbreaks occur, they are very hard to stop.

Risk Factor

Those who live in poor sanitary conditions are at the greatest risk. While this includes developing countries, it also includes refugee camps and urban slums.

Treatment

Rehydration is the best way to treat cholera. In developed countries, it is an easy disease to treat, but in countries with poor health care, it can lead to death within hours.

Prevention

The most beneficial way to prevent cholera is to clean up water and living conditions around the world. Only when access to clean water is present can cholera truly be eradicated.

5. Typhoid

symptom of typhoid

Symptoms

Persistent high fever, severe stomach pain, headache, rash, constipation, and muscle weakness are all signs of typhoid. Internal bleeding may be present in very serious, rare cases.

Cause

A type of bacteria present in contaminated food and water is the cause of typhoid. It spreads quickly in areas where water sanitation is not available.

Risk Factor

Travelers to developing countries are at the highest risk for typhoid, as it has been eradicated in industrialized countries. South Asia has the highest risk factor for typhoid of anywhere else in the world.

Treatment

Antibiotics may be administered, but they may not always work. IV fluids will be given for dehydration.

Prevention

Typhoid vaccines can offer some protection against this disease, although they aren’t completely effective. Monitoring foods and drinking water is the best way to prevent typhoid infection. Clean drinking water is a must.

Viral Diseases

Viral diseases spread through water are a little bit less common than bacterial ones, but they’re still a huge problem around the world. They are a little bit easier to treat in some instances than bacterial illnesses are, but they still pose a major threat to countries that don’t have good quality healthcare systems or access to modern medical technology. In the United States, some of these have been almost completely eradicated, but even these still have the potential to spread from travelers visiting outside the country.

6. Gastroenteritis

signs of Gastroenteritis

Symptoms

Symptoms include diarrhea and vomiting, both of which may be mild to severe. Patients may also have stomach cramps and dizziness as well as a high fever.

Cause

Drinking untreated water that may contain human and animal waste may lead to this illness. Eating food that has been prepared with contaminated water may as well. This disease spreads through a virus.

Risk Factor

Infants and young children are at the greatest risk for contracting gastroenteritis.

Treatment

For the most part, there’s no treatment for the disease itself. The symptoms may be treated with over the counter medication. Dehydration caused by vomiting and diarrhea may require IV fluids.

Prevention

Avoid drinking water from untreated sources or eating food that has been cooked with this water. Avoid washing yourself or your clothing in untreated water.

7. Hepatitis A

disease caused by water contamination

Symptoms

Symptoms include fever and fatigue, diarrhea, vomiting, loss of appetite, and jaundice. Liver failure may occur in serious cases.

Cause

A virus spread through contaminated water. Water that has been used for urination and defecation has a greater chance of being contaminated with Hepatitis A. Poor sanitation may also cause this disease.

Risk Factor

People who live in developing countries are at a greater risk for this disease. People who use injection drugs may be at a greater risk as well

Treatment

There is no real treatment for this disease. The fever and pain may be managed by over the counter acetaminophen. If the liver begins to fail, hospitalization will be required.

Prevention

Clean food preparation and drinking water are the keys to preventing the spread of this disease. There is also a vaccine available for Hepatitis A.

8. Dengue Fever

dengue virus

Symptoms

A fever of 104 degrees or higher is one of the most well-known signs of Dengue Fever. Muscle pain, headaches, swollen joints, rashes, and vomiting usually occur with this fever.

Cause

Dengue Fever is spread through bites from infected mosquitos. It may also be spread from human to human in some instances.

Risk Factor

Those who are already sick with something else, especially an autoimmune disorder, are much more likely to contract Dengue Fever.

Treatment

There’s no treatment for Dengue Fever. Medication may be given to help lower the fever itself, but this doesn’t cure the disease. IV fluids are almost always necessary to prevent death by dehydration.

Prevention

Using appropriate insecticides, mosquito netting, and other means of avoiding mosquitos is the best way to prevent Dengue Fever. A vaccine is in the works, but it hasn’t been perfected yet.

Parasitic Diseases

Last but not least, parasitic diseases are yet another potential problem associated with contaminated water. When parasites are present in water, it’s very easy for them to spread to people and animals alike. This is especially true of water sources where humans and animals defecate and urinate in the water, but this isn’t the only cause of these types of illnesses. Parasitic diseases can be very difficult to treat without the right medical technology.

9. Meningitis

water contamination diseases list

Symptoms

Symptoms include a stiff neck, severe headaches, nausea and vomiting

Cause

While parasitic meningitis is rare in comparison to other types of meningitis, it can be caused by one of three types of parasites: angiostrongylus cantonensis, baylisacaris procyonis, and gnathostoma spinigerum. Some of these can be spread through animal feces, while others may live in fish that can be found in contaminated water.

Risk Factor

Anyone who swims in natural, untreated bodies of water or comes into contact with dirt in those areas is at a greater risk for parasitic meningitis. Travelers to and residents of Southeast Asia are also at a greater risk.

Treatment

For the most part, only the symptoms of this disease can be treated. Treating the inflammation is the most important part, and can save lives. However, the parasitic disease itself has no real treatment.

Prevention

The best way to prevent this type of parasitic infection is to avoid areas where it could potentially be spread. Don’t swim in untreated bodies of water, and especially don’t drink from them. If you’ll be traveling to parts of the world where it’s common, don’t drink from natural water sources.

10. Giardiasis

Giardiasis infection

Symptoms

Watery diarrhea is a common first step in a giardiasis infection. It may also cause bloating, cramps, nausea, and vomiting. These symptoms may lead to dehydration and fatigue.

Cause

Giardiasis is spread by a parasite that travels through water. It may also be present in food, and the disease is contagious enough to be potentially spread from person to person as well.

Risk Factor

Children are more likely to develop this disease than adults, simply because they are more likely to put their hands in their mouths after touching something contaminated with giardiasis. Anyone living in a country with no access to clean drinking water is also at risk.

Treatment

Antibiotics and antifungal medications may be used to treat this parasitic infection. However, they may work better for some individuals than others. Individual symptoms may also be treated.

Prevention

Always wash your hands and encourage children to do the same after touching dirt or natural sources of water. Never drink water that hasn’t been treated. Don’t swallow swimming pool water.

11. Hookworm

parasite found in feces

Symptoms

Stomach pain and cramping, fever, loss of appetite, rash, and bloody stool are all signs of hookworm infection.

Cause

Hookworm is a parasite that is spread through feces. However, it can survive in water, and it usually uses water to help find its way to a new host. It may also spread when the larvae of the hookworm are swallowed.

Risk Factor

Those who live in warmer climates have a greater risk of hookworm infection than those who don’t. Areas with poor sanitation and little water quality control are also at a higher risk. Those who have pets who spend a lot of time outdoors may have a higher risk of hookworm as well.

Treatment

Treatment includes anti-parasitic medication that can help kill off the larvae and eggs. Patients may also be treated for their individual symptoms and may require IV fluids for dehydration.

Prevention

Never walk barefoot outside and do not swallow swimming pool water. Always have your pets vaccinated for parasites. Wash your hands frequently and never drink untreated water.

12. Cryptosporidium

Cryptosporidium parasite

Symptoms

Watery diarrhea is one of the first symptoms of cryptosporidium. Stomach pain, nausea, vomiting and fever may also occur. In severe cases, dehydration and weight loss may happen due to these other symptoms.

Cause

Cryptosporidium is a parasite that is transmitted through water. You don’t have to drink contaminated water to come down with this disease. It may also be passed through recreational water in natural locations as well as in water parks.

Risk Factor

Anyone who has swallowed water from a recreational location may be at a greater risk. Since children are more likely to do this, children have a higher risk factor than adults for contracting this disease. Immunocompromised individuals are at a very high risk.

Treatment

If you have a healthy immune system, you may need no treatment for this disease. IV fluids may be administered for dehydration. Young children and infants will need to be hospitalized and treated for dehydration and diarrhea.

Prevention

Always wash your hands after touching any dirt or other outdoor objects. Do not swallow swimming pool or lake water. Do not go swimming if you’ve recently had diarrhea to help prevent the spread of this illness.

Prevention

  • Always wash your hands after touching any dirt or other outdoor objects. Do not swallow swimming pool or lake water. Do not go swimming if you’ve recently had diarrhea to help prevent the spread of this illness.

13. Amoebiasis

parasites found in intestines

Symptoms

Symptoms may include diarrhea with blood and mucus in the stool as well as severe dysentery. Eventually, in extreme circumstances, liver damage can occur.

Cause

This parasitic infection can be caused by any amoeba from the Entamoeba group, but usually comes from exposure to Entamoeba hystolitica. This parasite can be found in water that has come into contact with human and animal feces.

Risk Factor

Anyone who lives in unsanitary conditions or drinks untreated water may be at risk for amoebiasis. This parasitic illness can affect anyone regardless of age.

Treatment

Two types of anti-amoebic medications may be administered to treat this disease. One is meant for targeting the intestine, and the other is for the liver.

Prevention

The best way to prevent coming into contact with amoebiasis is to avoid any untreated sources of water. Always wash your hands after touching dirt or handling anything outdoors, as it could have come into contact with animal feces carrying this parasite.

Conclusion

By now, you should be a lot more well-versed on the matter of potentially fatal water contamination illnesses. You should be able to recognize some of the leading worst of these illnesses before they get out of hand, and you should be better equipped to know what to expect in terms of treatment, too.

However, it’s very important to remember that, in countries like the United States where water treatment is commonplace, these diseases are very rare. While it’s a good idea to be aware of them, it doesn’t pay to constantly worry about the potential of contracting one of them. Keep this information in the back of your mind, but don’t let it make you too nervous.

If you will be visiting a country where the water quality is not up to standard, however, you might want to be a little more concerned with the potential for these diseases. Always take care to avoid drinking water that might be contaminated with bacteria or parasites. For this type of travel, it pays to get in touch with other tourists before you go and find out what they do for fresh water when abroad.

No matter what, always be cautious when interacting with untreated water, and keep this information in mind!

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