Protect yourself against waterborne diseases
Waterborne diseases are caused by pathogenic microorganisms, which are transmitted through consumption of contaminated fresh water. Millions of people are suffering from waterborne diseases like cholera, hepatitis, diarrhea and many others.
What are waterborne diseases?
Water-related diseases are a complex topic, butover the last few decadeswater-related human health issues have become a talking point because of the emergence of new water-related infections. In general, waterborne diseases are infections that occur due to consumption of drinking water contaminated by pathogenic microorganisms like bacteria, viruses and protozoan. Unaware of the impurities, people who drink this water can contract waterborne diseases including cholera, dysentery, cryptosporidiosis, hepatitis A and typhoid.
Infections are also transmitted through activities like swimming and bathing, consumption of food, etc. The World Health Organization report states the most common waterborne disease is diarrhea, which mainly affects children in developing countries. An estimated 502,000 people die every year from preventable cases of diarrhea caused by inadequate availability of drinking water.
Why waterborne diseases are growing
Waterborne diseases are a growing public health challenge. In some cases, waterborne diseases can prove life threatening.
Here are some of the reasons why waterborne diseases are growing:
Drought conditions can lead to increased concentrations of effluent pathogens. Many of those living in drought-afflicted areas suffer from waterborne diseases. Alterations in ocean and coastal ecosystems have led to changes in pH levels, nutrients, salinity and water security, all of which can taint fresh water. This occurs primarily in areas where the population uses untreated surface water for daily activities. Depleting forest covers and destruction of other natural resources have led to changes in weather patterns. The increased frequency of intense weather events like floods has resulted in a heightened risk of waterborne diseases.
Scale of waterborne diseases
Developing countries have a shortage of clean water and about four-fifths of all illnesses that occur in these regions are caused by waterborne diseases. Research shows an estimated 1.1 billion people globally lack access to safe drinking water sources; 2.4 billion lack adequate sanitation facilities. Without clean water and sanitation facilities, people are at risk from waterborne diseases.
According to WHO, over 2 billion people are infected with Schistosomiasis; of that, approximately 300 million are severe cases. Schistosomiasis is a water-related disease caused by parasitic worms and is common among children in developing nations (as they are more likely to be exposed to infected water). Additionally, malaria is a waterborne disease that is responsible for millions of deaths around the world. Malaria is a mosquito-borne infectious disease caused by a parasitic protozoan. Fever, fatigue, vomiting and headaches are some of the symptoms of malaria, and in severe cases, it can cause yellow skin, seizures, coma and even death.
Prevention of water-related diseases
With the onset of summer, waterborne diseases including gastroenteritis, typhoid, cholera and diarrhea are very common. To protect yourself from these ailments, you need to avoid contact with infected water. Here are some precautions you should follow to prevent waterborne diseases:
- Drink a trusted brand of filtered or bottled water.
- Wash all raw vegetables, fruits and even your hands, before eating.
- If you are suffering from diarrhea or loose motions, see a doctor. He may ask you to drink ORS (Oral Rehydration Solution) to prevent dehydration.
- If you’re planning to visit a developing country where sanitation problems persist, see your physician before you embark. He or she may suggest getting immunized and also advise you on how to protect yourself from waterborne diseases.
- Avoid drinking untreated water from a stream, river, lake, pond or shallow well, as it may be contaminated with animal, bird or human feces.
- If you are in a situation where the drinking water is untreated, see if you can sterilize it using chemicals such as chlorine, chlorine dioxide or ozone and irradiation with Ultra-Violet (UV) radiation.
To reduce the transmission of waterborne diseases, people must have access to clean drinking water. If both quality of water and sanitation facilities (the safe disposal of feces) are improved, the growth of waterborne diseases can be significantly reduced.