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Waterborne Infections

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Illnesses or diseases caused by drinking or ingestion of drinking or recreational water that is contaminated by disease-causing microorganisms or parasites are considered as waterborne infections. Let us learn more about waterborne infections from the following paragraphs.

What are Waterborne Infections?

Waterborne infections are those infections that are transmitted through the consumption or coming in contact with infected water. Diseases that are considered as waterborne include those that are caused by microbes like protozoa, bacteria as well as many intestinal parasites that invade the walls and tissues of the digestive tract. At times, diseases that are caused by certain viruses are also considered as waterborne infections.

Illnesses caused by metazoan parasites like roundworms or parasites from the family of blood flukes, etc. are also considered important classes of waterborne diseases.

How Do Waterborne Infections Spread?

Waterborne infections spread when human or animal feces containing microorganisms or parasites contaminate the drinking water system. Infections can also spread by swimming or bathing in infected waters. Cooking with contaminated water can also lead to waterborne diseases. Most infections occur due to improper sanitation, unsafe water supply and unhygienic practices.

What Are Symptoms of Waterborne Infections?

Symptoms of waterborne infections depend on the type of infection one has contracted. One may develop:

  • Diarrhea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Fever
  • Swollen glands
  • Bloating
  • Weight loss
  • Dehydration
  • Fatigue
  • Blood in urine
  • Itchy skin or skin rash
  • Intestinal disturbances
  • Abdominal pain
  • Liver enlargement
  • Itchy anus
  • Passage of feces with mucus and blood
  • Bloody vomit

These are general symptoms seen pertaining to different infections by bacteria, virus, protozoan or parasites. There are many other symptoms specific to each illness.

Who Are At Risk Of Waterborne Illnesses?

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People who are more likely to fall prey to a waterborne illness include:

  • People with a weak immune system like those who have undergone an organ or bone marrow transplantation, cancer patients, HIV/AIDS patients
  • Babies, toddlers and children whose immune system are not fully developed
  • Older adults
  • Patients suffering from a chronic disease

Types of Waterborne Infections

Some of the most common waterborne infections are described in the table below:

Disease    Type    Causative Agent Symptoms
Amoebiasis    Protozoa    Entamoeba histolytica Abdominal discomfort,explosive diarrhea, bloating
Dracunculiasis (Guinea Worm Disease) Parasitic Infection   Dracunculus medinensis Allergic reaction, diarrhea, asthmatic attack, vomiting, nausea, urticarial rash
Legionellosis    Bacterial Infection Legionella pneumophila Legionnaires’s disease causes fever, chills, pneumonia, ataxia, malaise, anorexia and sometimes diarrhea and vomiting
Hepatitis A Viral Infection Hepatitis A virus Acute symptoms such as fever, abdominal pain, fatigue, diarrhea, weight loss, itching, jaundice.

These are just a few of the diseases that are waterborne. There are many other illnesses that spread through water like:

  • Poliomyelitis
  • Salmonellosis
  • Typhoid fever
  • Dysentery
  • Cholera
  • Enterobiasis
  • Ascariasis
  • Schistosomiasis
  • Taeniasis
  • Viral gastroenteritis
  • Cryptosporidiosis
  • Giardiasis

Diagnosisof Waterborne Infections

Diagnosis is mostly carried out by blood culture, stool culture as well as taking symptoms into consideration. In some cases, ELISA tests as well as tissue biopsies are considered to detect presence of parasites.

Treatment for Waterborne Infections

Treatment includes medications that help fight off infections, control fever and pain. Those with severe infections may be hospitalized and kept on intravenous fluids. Home remedy includes plenty of rest and intake of fluids. Each individual illness has specific treatment that the doctor will suggest as and when required.

One can prevent waterborne infections by drinking boiled water or drinking from water purifiers fitted at home. Never drink water from road side vendors or add ice to drink that is not made from bottled or purified water. Avoid swimming in lakes and rivers where water is contaminated by human or animal feces, washing of clothes, etc. Make sure you swim only in pools that has chlorinated water. Wash your hands with soap and water frequently, especially after using the toilet.

If you feel sick in a day or two after consuming water of unknown origin or suffer from loose motions for more than 2 days, seek medical help. Treatment for waterborne infections is very important as it can lead to many serious complications.

Written by: Saptakee sengupta
Date last updated: April 06, 2015