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Water-borne Diseases: Types and Information

Author: Thomas C. Weiss : Contact: Disabled World

Published: 2015-06-15 : (Rev. 2018-09-02)

Synopsis and Key Points:

Information regarding types of water-borne diseases caused by water people drink that is contaminated by animal or human feces.

Main Digest

What Are Water-borne Diseases?

Waterborne diseases are caused by pathogenic microorganisms that most commonly are transmitted in contaminated fresh water. Infection commonly results during bathing, washing, drinking, in the preparation of food, or the consumption of food thus infected. Various forms of waterborne diarrheal disease probably are the most prominent examples, and affect mainly children in developing countries; according to the World Health Organization, such diseases account for an estimated 4.1% of the total DALY global burden of disease, and cause about 1.8 million human deaths annually.

The complete picture of water-associated diseases is complex for some different reasons. Over a period of decades, the picture of water-related human health issues has become more and more comprehensive, with the emergence of new water-related infection diseases and the re-emergence of ones we already know about.

Data is available for some water, hygiene-related and sanitation diseases such as cholera, salmonellosis, or shigellosis. Yet for others such as schistosomiasis, malaria, or more modern infections such as SARS CoV or legionellosis the analysis has yet to be performed. The burden of a number of disease groups may only partly be attributed to water determinants. Even where water has an essential role in the ecology of diseases, it might be difficult to pinpoint the relative importance of water components of the local ecosystem.

In certain regions of West Africa, onchocerciasis is a more important cause of blindness than trachoma. In some villages it is common to see young children leading blind adults; in highly endemic areas the blindness rate in men over 40 years may be 40% or higher. Transcribed from the Atlas of Tropical and Extraordinary Diseases, p. 373. Photo contributed by WHO.About This Image: In certain regions of West Africa, onchocerciasis is a more important cause of blindness than trachoma. In some villages it is common to see young children leading blind adults; in highly endemic areas the blindness rate in men over 40 years may be 40% or higher. Transcribed from the Atlas of Tropical and Extraordinary Diseases, p. 373. Photo contributed by WHO.Water-borne diseases include the following:

How Big is the Issue?

In developing countries, four-fifths of all illnesses are caused by water-borne diseases, with diarrhea being the leading cause of death among children. The global picture of health and water has a strong local dimension for approximately 1.1 billion people who still lack access to improved drinking water sources. Around 2.4 billion people on Earth have inadequate sanitation. There is strong evidence that sanitation, water and hygiene-related diseases account for around 2,223,000 deaths each year, as well as an annual loss of 82,196,000 Disability Adjusted Life Years (DALY's).

The World Health Organization estimates indicate that worldwide, more than 2 billion people are infected with schistosomes and soil-transmitted helminthes. Approximately 300 million people experience serious illness due to this fact. Malaria; for example, kills more than a million people every single year and a large percentage of them are under the age of five - mainly in Africa south of the Sahara. In the year 2001, the estimated global burden of malaria amounted to 42.3 million DALY's, constituting 10% of the overall disease burden in Africa. Malaria causes at least 396.8 million instances of acute illness every year. Pregnant women are the main adult group at risk. As one of the major public health issues in tropical countries, it has been claimed that malaria has reduced economic growth in African countries by 1.3% every year for the past three decades.

Approximately 246.7 million people around the world are infected by schistomiasis and of this population, 20 million people experience the consequences of the infection, while 120 million people experience symptoms that are milder. An estimated 80% of transmission happens in Africa, south of the Sahara. Diarrhea occurs around the world and causes 4% of all deaths and 5% of the health loss due to disability.

Bangladesh alone finds around 35 million people being exposed on a daily basis to elevated levels of arsenic in the water they drink, which will eventually threaten their health while shortening their life expectancy. Following the tsunami in Asia on the 26th of December in 2004, people faced the threat of water-borne diseases linked to flooding such as:

Transmission of Water-Borne Diseases

Water-borne diseases spread by contaminating drinking water systems with feces and urine of infected animals or people. The spread of contaminated water is likely to happen where private and public drinking systems get their water such as surface waters - creeks, rivers, lakes, and rain. These sources of water may be contaminated by infected animals or people. Runoff from:

May also spread contamination, which has been the cause of a number of dramatic outbreaks of fecal-oral diseases such as typhoid or cholera. There are a number of additional ways in which fecal material may reach a person's mouth such as in food that is contaminated, or the person's hands. Generally, food that is contaminated is the one most common way people become infected. The germs in feces may cause the diseases by even slight contact and transfer. The contamination might happen because of floodwaters, septic fields, water runoff from landfills, and sewer pipes.

The one way to break continued transmission of water-borne diseases is to improve the hygienic behavior of people and provide them with basic needs such as:

Transmission of malaria is facilitated when large numbers of people sleep outside in hot weather, or sleep in homes that have no protection against mosquitoes. Malaria mosquitoes, bilharzias snails and tropical black flies can all be controlled with efficient drainage; they all depend on water to complete their respective life cycles.

Preventing Water-Borne Diseases

Clean water is a prerequisite for reducing the spread of water-borne diseases. It is well recognized that the prevalence of water-borne diseases may be greatly reduced by providing people with safe, sanitary disposal of feces and provision of clean drinking water. Water is disinfected to kill any pathogens that might be present in the water supply and to prevent them from growing again in distribution systems.

Disinfection is then used in order to prevent the growth of pathogenic organisms and to protect people's health. People need clean water and water supply systems. Without disinfection, the risk of water-borne disease increases. The 2 most common methods of killing microorganisms in the water supply are irradiation with ultra-violet radiation, or oxidation with chemicals like chlorine dioxide or ozone, or chlorine.

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