Waterborne diseases have become more of a serious threat during seasons of rains and floods. These diseases are caused by pathogenic organisms which are directly transmitted through contact or consumption of contaminated water. According to the World Health Organization, waterborne diseases is the leading cause of death and disease around the world, with a reported victim of 3.4 million every year. Most of the victims are young children, with majority dying of illnesses caused by organisms that thrive in water sources contaminated by raw sewage.
Diarrhea alone, an infection and is a common symptom of several waterborne diseases, is the cause of death of 2 million children each year. An outbreak of waterborne diseases may happen because of poor water sanitation and lack of safe drinking water. This is particularly true in developing countries, but these days you can never be sure. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports about 22.5 outbreaks per year in the US, with an average of about 4,640 to 9,331 people infected annually, with reported death of about 6 people per year.
Other waterborne diseases caused by bacteria are cholera, dysentery, botulism, Escherichia Coli infection (E-coli), leptospirosis, and typhoid.
Other diseases that can be transmitted through water are protozoal infections like amoebiasis, parasitic infections like hyatidosis and viral infections like Hepatitis A.
Fortunately, the majority of these waterborne disease cases are not fatal, specially when immediately treated. It is alarming, though, that it can still cause fatalities even in developed countries.
Prevention, as always, is better than cure. Here are some tips to avoid waterborne diseases:
- Maintain proper hygiene and cleanliness in your surroundings. Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water to rid of germs and bacteria and to avoid transfer of parasites like giardia and hookworms especially after using the bathroom. Avoid drinking from containers that belong to other people.
- Avoid, as much as you can, swimming in public pools.
- Don’t assume that all bottled water is safer than tap water. Bottled water have expiration dates, so always check the label before drinking any. Store in temperature 39.2 to 59 degrees For at least room temperature. Ensure that the bottled water has been kept in a dry place out of direct sunlight.
- Be extra careful about the water you drink if you have a weakened immune system. If you have a medical condition or if you are taking medications that render your immune system weak or if you had an organ transplant, you are most likely to contract the waterborne disease if you drink or if you get in contact with contaminated water.
- Be vigilant about news and consumer reports from newspapers, radio or TV. Water companies are legally required to let you know if your water supply is contaminated. You can also read annual reports from the water supplier about the safety of their product.
- If you’ve run out of supply of safe drinking water, boil the water for at least a minute before using or drinking it.
- If you drink from a private drinking water well rather than a local public water system, be sure to have your water safety checked. EPA does not regulate privately owned water sources, unlike public water suppliers, so the former are susceptible to waterborne diseases. It is recommended that you have your well water tested annually for total coliform bacteria, nitrates, total dissolved solids, pH and any contaminants that you suspect your water may have been exposed to.
- Keep farm animal cages and pens from water sources. Fecal matter from these animals may contaminate water sources with parasites that may infect humans with diarrhea and hepatitis.
- Do not expose your water supply to harsh chemicals, detergents or pesticides. Such substances create the potential for waterborne disease and other illnesses.
- Before travelling, check websites such as http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/for any outbreaks and drinking water condition. Bring your own drinking water or if you can, try to bring a portable filter.