Water pollution occurs when unwanted materials, industrial waste, human waste or animal waste, garbage, sewage effluents, etc. enter into the water, changes the quality of water which makes it harmful to the environment and also to human health. Waterborne diseases are caused by drinking water or eating food washed in water which is polluted, contains protozoa that can cause infections like Amoebiasis, Giardiasis, toxoplasmosis, etc, contains viruses like Hepatitis A or E, or water may contain bacteria like E.coli, cholera or typhoid fever or water with parasites like roundworm, hookworm and ringworm. Waterborne diseases are generally caused by polluted water from contamination of human or animal waste in the water.
According to World Health Organization (WHO), 80% of diseases are water borne. Drinking water in various countries does not meet WHO standards. 3.1% of deaths occur due to the unhygienic and poor quality of water. In India, over one lakh people die of water-borne diseases annually. It is reported that groundwater in one-third of India’s 600 districts is not fit for drinking as the concentration of fluoride, iron, salinity and arsenic exceeds the tolerance levels. About 65 million people have been suffering from fluorosis, a crippling disease due to a high amount of fluoride, which is more common in Rajasthan belt. A World Resources Report says about 70 percent of India’s water supply is seriously polluted with sewage effluents. The UN reported that India’s water quality is poor – it ranks 120th among 122 nations in terms of quality of water available to its citizens.
Waterborne illnesses have two main causes:
- Pollution – dangerous levels of chemicals, nitrates or heavy metals in the water supply due to industrial pollution or the over-use of agricultural chemicals.
- Dirt & Contamination – Bacteria, viruses and parasitic organisms invisibly contaminate the water and cause disease. Much of this contamination is through water coming into contact with an animal and human waste. Just one gram of feces can contain up to 100 billion microbes.
Waterborne illnesses are many and varied, from diarrhea and cholera to polio and meningitis. They can be incredibly severe, life-changing and even life-threatening to those who are infected but there are steps you can take to protect yourself from waterborne diseases and illnesses.
Dysentery. Dysentery is caused by either bacteria or protozoa and causes inflammation of the intestines, severe abdominal pains and diarrhea, often with blood. The intestinal lining can be compromised, impairing nutrient absorption, causing bleeding, allowing bacterial infections and even the exit of pathogens into the bloodstream.
Typhoid fever. Typhoid fever is a life-threatening illness one can contract by eating food handled by a person shedding the Salmonella Typhi bacteria or by eating food washed with water contaminated by sewage with the Salmonella Typhi bacteria. Once ingested, the bacteria multiply in the bloodstream. Symptoms include a very high fever, stomach pains, headache, extreme fatigue, joint pain and loss of appetite. Sometimes, to a rash will spread across the abdomen known as rose spots.
Cholera. Cholera is an acute, diarrheal illness caused by infection of the intestine with the bacterium Vibrio Cholerae. Cholera is globally having increase steadily since 2005. Epidemics are generally related to fecal contamination of water supplies or street vendor foods. Severe cases may cause profuse watery diarrhea, vomiting, and leg cramps. The rapid loss of body fluids can lead to dehydration and shock and without treatment, death can occur within hours.
Hepatitis A. Hepatitis A is a liver disease caused by the hepatitis A virus. The virus enters the water via the feces of an infected person. This can happen through broken pipes or by sewage overflows. Accordingly, the virus can spread through water used to wash food. Hepatitis A typically causes by fever, vomiting, stomach pain, jaundice or yellowing of the skin and eyes, dark urine, and fatigue.
When there is not an adequate supply of clean water for washing, eye and skin infections can easily occur and be very difficult to clear.
Trachoma. Trachoma is responsible for visual impairment or blindness. Women and children are the most vulnerable populations. It is an infectious disease, spreading through personal contact and by flies that have been in contact with the discharge from the eyes or nose of the infected person.
Shigellas. Shigella is another infectious disease that can spread from an infected person to contaminate water or food. Shigellas and the E.coli bacteria are the most common cause of traveler’s diarrhea, often from eating salad or sandwiches that have involved hand contact by someone who has picked up the bacteria from feces or feces-contaminated water and not washed their hands properly
Prevention Tips from waterborne disease includes.
- Make sure that the water is visibly clean and free from any sand and silt. You can filter the water to get rid of any visible dirt.
- Only drink clean and safe water. Use either clean portable water or water that has been treated with water purifiers. Do not consume untreated water.
- Make sure that the stored water is free of germs and clean for later use.
- In bathing water, if it is not clear, put some antiseptic liquid to get rid of harmful bacteria.
- Practice exceptional hand hygiene by washing hands meticulously with soap after using the toilet, before and after preparing food, before eating or drinking anything.
- Children should always wash hands when they enter a home after playing games, and also everyone should wash hands while entering the home.
- Make sure that the food is washed and thoroughly cooked to get rid of harmful bacteria and other hazardous germs.
- Immunize yourself to safeguard yourself from vaccine-preventable diseases like Typhoid, Hepatitis A, Polio, etc
- As far as possible use disposable glass and plates while eating or drinking from outside.
- Avoid previously prepared food reused after long hours exposed food,
- Regularly get your water treatment device like filters, RO unit, etc, serviced and maintained.
Waterborne illnesses can strike anywhere, but they might be more dominant in the rural locations, majorly due to poor infrastructure when it comes to providing clean safe water, sanitation, and drainage. This is a myth, waterborne illness can impact anyone, however dependent on the illness it causes and it can have a much more severe impact in young children, babies, the elderly and those living with chronic conditions like heart disease, diabetes, kidney disease etc.
Dr.Joozer Rangwala Senior Consultant Internal Medicine and Diabetologist, Narayana Multispeciality Hospital, Ahmedabad