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Waterborne Diseases

Second only to air, water is the most important thing in the world. Water has the power to give and take life. Water has always been the breeding grounds for diseases. With the historically recent increase in waste and pollution that is produced on a daily basis, the amount of diseases and harm that water can bring to us is increasing drastically.

The most important thing to note is that these diseases cannot be seen in water; they are invisible to the naked eye. It is for this reason that it is very important to filter or purify water. For example, decreasing the amount of total dissolved solids (TDS) in water to 0 ppm will decrease the possibility of contracting diseases. This can be done with various methods, such as the use of reverse osmosis (RO) and de-ionization (DI) systems.

Diarrheal disease accounts for 4.1% of the daily global burden of disease. An estimated 1.8 million people die of diarrheal diseases every year. 88% of diarrheal diseases are caused by unsafe or untreated water use or consumption. The following is a list of the many diseases that are linked to untreated water and its symptoms.


Sources of Agent in Water Supply

General Symptoms


Sewage, non-treated drinking water, flies in water supply.

Abdominal discomfort and/or pain, fatigue, weight loss, diarrhea, gas pains, fever.


Collects on water filters and membranes that cannot be disinfected, animal manure, seasonal runoff of water.

Flu-like symptoms, watery diarrhea, loss of appetite, substantial loss of weight, bloating, increased gas.


Sewage, non-treated drinking water.

Cramps, nausea, vomiting, muscle aches, low-grade fever, and fatigue.


Untreated water, poor disinfection, pipe breaks, leaks, groundwater contamination, campgrounds where humans and wildlife use same source of water. Beavers and muskrats act as a reservoir for Giardia.

Diarrhea, abdominal discomfort, bloating, gas and gas pains.


The genera of Encephalitozoon intestinalis has been detected in groundwater, swimming pool via AIDS patients and the origin of drinking water. [2]



Contaminated fresh water with certain types of snails that carry schistosomes.

Rash or itchy skin. Fever, chills, cough, and muscle aches.


Drinking water containing infective Cyclops.

Allergic reaction, urticarial rash, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, asthmatic attack.

Taeniasis Solium

Contaminated drinking water with eggs.

Intestinal disturbances, neurological manifestations, loss of weight, cysticercosis.


Contaminated drinking water with encysted metacercaria.

GIT disturbance, diarrhea, liver enlargement, cholangitis, cholecystitis, obstructive jaundice.

Hymenolepiasis Nana

Contaminated drinking water with eggs.

Mild GIT symptoms, nervous manifestation.


Contaminated drinking water with eggs.

Hyatid cyst press on bile ductand blood vessels, if it ruptured cause anaphylactic shock.


Contaminated drinking water with eggs.

Increases intracranial tension.


Contaminated drinking water with eggs.

Loffler’s syndrome in lung, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, malnutrition, underdevelopment.


Contaminated drinking water with eggs.

Peri-anal itch, nervous irritability, hyperactivity and insomnia.

  • Botulism - Clostridium botulinum bacteria - gastro-intestinal food/water borne; can grow in food
  • Campylobacteriosis- fever, abdominal cramps, and mild to severe diarrhea.  Diarrhea can lead to dehydration, which should be closely monitored. Signs of dehydration include: thirst, irritability, restlessness, lethargy, sunken eyes, dry mouth and tongue, dry skin, fewer trips to the bathroom to urinate (")
  • Cholera - Vibrio cholerae bacteria - gastro-intestinal often waterborne
  • Chronic granulomatous disease - caused by the Mycobacterium marinum infection and localized in skin, frequently occurred with aquarium keepers [3].
  • Diarrheal disease due to E. coli.
  • Dysentery - Shigella/Salmonella bacteria - gastro-intestinal food/water
  • Legionellosis - cause Pontiac fever and Legionnaires' disease
  • Leptospirosis- The illness typically progresses through two phases:
  • The first phase of nonspecific flu-like symptoms includes headaches, muscle aches, eye pain with bright lights, followed by chills and fever. Watering and redness of the eyes occurs and symptoms seem to improve by the fifth to ninth day.
  • The second phase begins after a few days of feeling well. The initial symptoms recur with fever and aching with stiffness of the neck. Some patients develop serious inflammation of the nerves to the eyes, brain, spinal column (meningitis), or other nerves. Right upper area abdominal pain may occur. Less common symptoms relate to disease of the liver, lungs, kidneys, and heart. (
  • Otitis externa- or swimmer's ear usually starts out as a nagging itch, brought on by a softening of the protective lining of the ear canal. However, it can blossom into as painful an infection as you will ever experience. (
  • Typhoid - Salmonella typhi bacteria - gastro-intestinal water/food borne
  • Vibrio illness caused by the bacteria of Vibrio vulnificus, Vibrio alginolyticus and Vibrio parahaemolyticus commonly found in seafood and recreational water [4].
  • Adenovirus infection - its serotypes are typically waterborne [5].
  • Astroviruses- gastroenteritis, predominantly diarrhea (
  • Caliciviruses- diarrhoea or vomiting lasting 1-4 days (incubation period 1-2 days). The most frequent source of infection appears to be contaminated food/beverages - may cause up to 90% of food-related gastroenteritis outbreaks. (
  • Circoviruses - its human form of Transfusion Transmitted Virus found in feces, saliva, skin and hair [2]
  • Coronaviruses - cause SARS and excreted in the feces [2]
  • Enteric Adenoviruses- most commonly cause respiratory illness; however, depending on the infecting serotype, they may also cause various other illnesses, such as gastroenteritis, conjunctivitis, cystitis, and rash illness. Symptoms of respiratory illness caused by adenovirus infection range from the common cold syndrome to pneumonia, croup, and bronchitis. (
  • Hepatitis A - Hepatitis A virus - gastro-intestinal water/food borne
  • Parvoviruses - associated with Gastroenteritis [2].
  • Picobimaviruses - associated with Gastroenteritis in AIDS patients, children and elderly [2].
  • Polio - polioviruses - gastro-intestinal exposure to untreated
  • Polyomaviruses - its human form of JC virus cause Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy and detected in sewage [2]
  • Small Round Structured Virus- also known as “Winter vomiting disease” the most common cause of infectious gastroenteritis (
  • Hay fever - a part of disease rate is associated with the high frequency of swimming pool attendance in childhood [6]
  • Meningitis
  • Trihalomethanes - a byproduct of chlorinated water which will cause bladder cancer through inhalation and dermal absorption during showering, bathing, and swimming in pools [7].

  • References:

    2. Nwachuku, Nena; Charles P. Gerba. Emerging Waterborne Pathogens: Can We Kill Them All? . Retrieved on 9 August 2007.
    3. Petrini, B.. Mycobacterium marinum: ubiquitous agent of waterborne granulomatous skin infections . Retrieved on 9 August 2007.
    4. Dziuban, Eric J. et al.. Surveillance for Waterborne Disease and Outbreaks Associated with Recreational Water --- United States, 2003--2004 . Retrieved on 9 August 2007.
    5. Nwachuku, Nena et al.. Comparative inactivation of Adenovirus serotypes by UV light disinfection . Retrieved on 9 August 2007.
    6. Kohlhammer, Y. et al.. Swimming pool attendance and hay fever rates later in life . Blackwell Publishing. Retrieved on 9 August 2007.
    7. Villanueva, Cristina M. et al.. Bladder Cancer and Exposure to Water Disinfection By-Products through Ingestion, Bathing, Showering, and Swimming in Pools . American Journal of Epidemiology. Retrieved on 17 August 2007.

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Did You Know?

Water is our planet's most precious resource.

  • The average American uses about 50 gallons (190 liters) of water daily.
  • Flushing a toilet uses 2 to 7 gallons (7.5 to 26.5 liters) of water.
  • A five-minute shower uses 25 to 50 gallons (95 to 190 liters) of water.
  • Leaving the water on while brushing your teeth wastes 2 gallons (7.5 liters) of water each time!
  • At least 400 million people live in regions with severe water shortages.
  • Water is the original health drink.  It contains no fat, no calories and no cholesterol.