Water is said to be the source of life. However, research has already shown us that just as much as it could be a life-giving sustenance, it could also bring much peril.
The World Health Organization (WHO) reported in 2009 that waterborne diseases are the deadliest killers known to man. It is not the water per se that causes harm – it is the various contaminants and microorganisms that thrive in the water.
Diseases can easily be contracted not just by drinking contaminated drinking water but also by merely getting into contact with it.
Diarrhea is the first sign
Most of these water borne diseases manifest themselves through chronic diarrhea. In fact, water borne diseases in Africa and in Southeast Asia have brought about severe cases of diarrhea which led to 7.7 percent and 8.5 percent of deaths in those continents respectively.
Water related diseases could be avoided at the onset with the use of water filtration techniques to sift out all the nasty contaminants up to the smallest micron; so do boiling, water stills, and the use of water treatment tablets.
After all, what is a waterborne disease but the result of ingesting a virus or bacteria that makes itself comfortable in any kind of water source? You eliminate those nasty microorganisms from your water and you can consider yourself protected.
Let us look at each of these water borne illnesses and see how they fare against water filters:
The Global Health Observatory of the World Health Organization (WHO) noted that in 2013, 47 countries reported 129,064 cases of cholera to WHO. A total of 47 percent of this number came from the Americas while 43 percent came from Africa.
Cholera is a waterborne illness that affects the intestine, no thanks to the bacterium, Vibrio cholerae. Its symptoms usually are watery diarrhea and vomiting which can lead to dehydration and electrolyte imbalance.
What is dysentery, you may ask? It is probably one of the most common waterborne diseases around, having killed around 600,000 children who have not yet reached the age of five coming mostly from developing countries.
The bacterial disease is caused by the microorganism called Shigella, and just like the cholera bacterium, this little dude attacks cells in the large intestine, resulting to abdominal cramps, anal pain, and bloody stool.
3. Typhoid Fever.
Another example of waterborne diseases is typhoid fever. The bacteria in water that brings this type of disease is the Salmonella typhi, and this little beast gives symptoms quite different from cholera and dysentery. The affected person may also suffer from diarrhea, but a more distinct symptom is the development of a skin rash with rose colored spots on the chest and abdomen.
This dude could also enter the bloodstream, making the infected person a carrier of the disease even if he has been cured of the symptoms. Moreover, only humans can be infected with typhoid fever.
4. Salmonella and E. coli Infection.
These two bacterial diseases have a lot in common: both come from unsanitary conditions, filthy water containing infected feces, and meat that has not been cooked well. Even our pets can help in the spread of salmonella through their feces. Meanwhile, a particular strain of the Escherichia coli has the ability to produce toxins that cause illness.
Both of these water bacteria present similar symptoms in infected individuals – high fever, abdominal cramps, vomiting, and diarrhea. In the worst cases of E. coli poisoning, one could experience kidney failure.
This disease is the most common cause of diarrheal illness among humans, and the culprit is the Campylobacter jejuni bacteria. If you have a severe case of gastroenteritis, then this bad dude could be the reason for it.
The C. jejuni bacteria could be found not just among humans but in a wide variety of animals. Thus, if you kill an infected farm animal for food purposes and its meat is eaten either uncooked or barely cooked, then you’re in for a series of visits to the loo or, in worse cases, to the hospital. Infected feces could also end up in water sources, and the bacteria in water could be potentially harmful to anyone who takes a drink straight out of that water.
Also known as legionnaire’s disease, this particular type of illness is caused by the Legionella bacteria. Unlike previously-mentioned waterborne diseases which target the digestive system, this one chooses another venue to attack – the respiratory system.
The Legionella bacteria can thrive in warm water environments– even in water heating systems, evaporative coolers, fountains, or any entity that can turn water into fine mist. When the mist with this nasty creature is inhaled, the infected person could eventually manifest pneumonia-like symptoms, as well as loss of coordination. Contaminated drinking water can also be the culprit.
Although the bacteria causing this disease can be found in many wild and domesticated animals, the most common carriers are rodents.
Water sports enthusiasts are susceptible to contracting this disease, as well as those living in flood-prone areas where feces of your common household mice could mix with the flood water. If this bacterial water manages to enter the body either through open wounds or through drinking, the infected person could either turn yellow (Weil’s disease) or his lungs could bleed (severe pulmonary hemorrhage syndrome). It may even lead to meningitis.
The bacterium, Clostridium botulinum, is the culprit behind botulism. Infection begins with fatigue, problems with eyesight, and slurred speech, something that water diseases are quite known for. Eventually, it progresses to weakness of the facial muscles, and this weakness spreads to the arms and legs.
If not treated with antibiotics and/or an antitoxin, the poison of C. botulinum could lead to death as this little beast could even affect breathing and the production of saliva.
9. Vibrio Illness.
Strains of the Vibrio bacteria are usually found in saltwater, and can be carried by several marine animals like crabs, prawns, and shellfish. If you ingest it, this waterborne illness can manifest cholera-like symptoms. If it enters the body through an open wound, a nagging infection and skin ulcers may occur.
Toxin from the Vibrio bacteria can be lethal, and a visit to the doctor for the necessary antibiotics is highly recommended.
10. Hepatitis A and E.
These two strains of the hepatitis virus are usually found in unsanitary surroundings or in water sources contaminated with feces of an infected person. Once ingested, these nasties attack the liver and cause jaundice, vomiting, and abdominal discomfort. In the case of Hepatitis E, it can even cause liver failure.
There are vaccines that can protect against Hepatitis A and other water borne illnesses, but none against the deadlier Hepatitis E. However, even if left untreated, both types of the hepatitis virus may heal over time.
11. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).
This is a disease which, to date, still has no vaccine. What is dysentery compared to this disease, right? Only discovered in 2003, SARS has already been pegged by WHO as a global health threat due to the numerous outbreaks that occurred in recent time, mostly in Hong Kong and mainland China where the disease started.
When the SARS-causing Coronavirus enters the system through cough droplets in the air or contact with body fluids of an infected person, one will start to develop flu-like symptoms until it progresses to something that resembles pneumonia. In the worst cases, the result is death.
There are efforts toward the global eradication of the Poliovirus which causes poliomyelitis, or polio, due to the existence of a vaccine to prevent its onset. However, there are still instances of outbreaks from the said virus being reported in several developing countries.
Spread usually through ingestion, this micro-creature has the power to give you dizziness, vomiting, and body pains at the least; overall muscle weakness to paralysis at the worst – even death.
13. Polyomavirus Infection.
What is a waterborne disease originally thought to affected caged birds? With two strains of the polyomavirus infection (the JC and BK viruses) present, it wasn’t long before experts discovered it could negatively affect humans. Contaminated water is seen as the source of these viruses. Symptoms begin with infection of the respiratory tract, and in worst cases, the kidneys are compromised.
The name, polyoma, is Latin for “numerous tumors,” which is exactly what these viruses create within the system.
DISEASES FROM MICROBIOLOGICAL AGENTS
14. Arsenicosis and Fluorosis.
Arsenic and fluoride are minerals that are naturally present in our earth’s crust, and may sometimes mix with groundwater that may have probably flowed along arsenic- or fluoride-rich rocks. Prolonged drinking of water laced with these minerals will have serious consequences to one’s health.
Arsenicosis manifests itself on the human body as skin lesions, and can also result to skin cancers and affect the bladder, kidneys, and lungs. If untreated or if exposure to it continues, death is a possibility.
As for fluorosis, the early sign of this disease is a mild discoloration of the teeth. In worst cases, overexposure to fluoride can leave people severely crippled. This example of waterborne diseases may be present in your home right now.
When you are unlucky enough to ingest the amoeba, Entamoeba histolytica through unsanitary food or contaminated water, then you’re in for a seriously uncool gastrointestinal illness and one of the most common waterborne diseases. Wikipedia notes that this disease has already caused approximately 70,000 deaths per year on a global scale.
The awful part of it is that even when you are already cured of the diarrhea, the E. histolytica can lay dormant in the body for several years.
The protozoan, Giardia lamblia, is the most common intestinal parasite; so common, you can find it in the digestive tract of almost every animal – including humans.
Symptoms of individuals infected with this protozoan include diarrhea, loss of appetite, bloating, and excessive flatulence and burping. In some cases, even when the G. lamblia is already out of the system, intestinal problems may still recur.
The disease and the culprit behind it are called Cryptosporidium, or crypto. The protozoan has an outer shell surrounding it, making it quite resistant to cleansers and disinfectants, even chlorine. Thus, it can survive for days in a chlorinated pool, as well as in questionable water sources.
The symptoms of this disease are typical of fecal-related diseases that are waterborne – watery diarrhea and weight loss. These symptoms can recur for up to 30 days.
Broken pipes, sewage water, contaminated water sources, and contaminated produce are breeding spots for the Cyclospora cayetanensis, a protozoan that is behind this gastrointestinal infection.
This micro-dude wreaks havoc in the small intestine, invading the mucosa where it stays for one week. During that time, the affected individual experiences watery stool, stomach cramps, and fever. Cotrimoxazole is a known treatment against this microorganism.
Immunocompromised people (e.g., HIV-infected individuals) are most susceptible to this particular parasite. The spores of this dude are quite resistant and can survive in the environment for an extended period of time.
The typical symptom of this infection is diarrhea.
The usual indicator of a person infected with schistosomiasis or schisto is a distended belly. This is the usual case among affected populations in areas where waters are infested with blood flukes of the genus, Schistosoma.
Symptoms of schisto include blood in the stool and/or urine. If not treated immediately, this could cause liver and kidney damage, infertility, and bladder cancer.
Dog lovers may be surprised to know that their beloved pets, as well as their relatives in the wild (foxes and wolves) could be carriers of tapeworms of the Echinococcus type. When transmitted to humans, it will target the liver, bile duct, and blood vessels. When cysts of these tapeworms rupture, it can cause anaphylactic shock. In worst cases, it can cause death.
This particular tapeworm can also be found among cows, pigs, and horses.
You want gross? This is gross. This disease, also called the Guinea worm disease from the worm that causes it, is contracted when water contaminated with this creature’s eggs and/or larvae is ingested.
When the larvae mature, they can grow up to a meter long. The female worms can move through an infected individual’s subcutaneous tissue and eventually emerge, more often than not, at the feet. By that time, it has caused painful ulcers, as well as fever, vomiting, and nausea.
This particular infection is caused by the tapeworm, Cysticerci, which can come from undercooked meat of an animal infested with the eggs and/or larvae of this creature.
In worst possible cases, this parasite can cause a type of epilepsy called neurocysticercosis.
Also called a pinworm infection or helminthiasis, this usually affects children the most and is among the most common parasitic worm infections in the developed world.
The best indicator of a pinworm infection is anal itchiness. Treatment for this particular infection can be bought over the counter.
The intestinal fluke, Fasciolopsis buski, is what causes this infection. This is considered as the largest intestinal fluke to be found in humans. It is endemic in Southeast Asian countries like China, India, and Malaysia.
This dude can infest aquatic plants like water spinach, and if not properly cooked, it could transfer to the human intestines where it can thrive and cause diarrhea, abdominal pain, anemia, and allergies.
Safe water means never having to deal with these
If you have some way to filter water through ceramic filters, distillation or some other method, you can be assured that you don’t contract most of these diseases. Always treat your water before you pay the price!
If you do find yourself out in the wild and wondering if you should drink the water, take a moment. You may be dehydrated but you shouldn’t let that make you complacent.
5 Essential Tips to Avoid Water Borne Diseases
- Always drink water from a safe and reliable source. Boil or filter the water before drinking it.
- Avoid swimming in contaminated water, as this can increase your risk of contracting a disease.
- Wash your hands with soap and clean running water after coming into contact with any body of water.
- Be aware of the signs and symptoms of common diseases, such as diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and abdominal pain.
- If you suspect that you have contracted a water borne disease, seek medical attention immediately.
ALSO: Make sure to practice good hygiene when handling food or drinks that may have come into contact with contaminated water!
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About The Author
Carolyn Rodriguez works at AllAboutWaterFilters as a content research writer, specializing in content resources regarding water pollution, contamination, and treatment. She has previously worked as an editing assistant, content production assistant, research assistant, and ghost writer for a range of websites, with a particular concentration on water pollution. She is currently writing regularly for AllAboutWaterFilters as well as her own water safety essays across the web.