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Waterborne illnesses are diseases caused by pathogens—such as bacteria, viruses, and parasites—that travel via water and are contracted by drinking or encountering contaminated water. These illnesses can have serious consequences for public health. Let’s explore some common waterborne diseases and how to prevent them.

What is Waterborne Illness?

Waterborne illnesses are a significant global health concern, affecting millions of people each year. These diseases are caused by microscopic organisms such as viruses and bacteria that are ingested through contaminated water or by coming in contact with feces.

Common Waterborne Diseases & Prevention

1. Typhoid Fever

  • Symptoms: Typhoid fever is characterized by a gradually increasing fever, muscle aches, fatigue, sweating, and either diarrhea or constipation.
  • Spread: It spreads through contaminated food, unsafe water, and poor sanitation.
  • Prevention and Treatment:
    • Vaccination: Recommended for travellers in areas with poor sanitation and unsafe water.
    • Safe Practices: Refrain from drinking unsealed water and avoid food from villages or street vendors.
    • Treatment: Antibiotics are used to treat typhoid fever.

2. Cholera

  • Symptoms: Cholera causes severe dehydration and diarrhea, along with nausea, vomiting, and muscle cramps.
  • Spread: Common in humanitarian emergencies and marginalized villages with poor sanitation.
  • Prevention and Treatment:
    • Hygiene: Wash hands frequently.
    • Food Safety: Consume fully cooked foods and avoid sushi.
    • Peel Vegetables: Only eat vegetables you can peel yourself.

3. Norovirus (Gastroenteritis)

  • Symptoms: Norovirus causes diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and vomiting.
  • Spread: Typically transmitted through infected food, water, or contact with contaminated surfaces.
  • Prevention:
    • Hygiene: Wash hands thoroughly.
    • Safe Food Handling: Ensure proper food preparation and storage.

4. Legionnaire’s Disease

  • Symptoms: Legionnaire’s disease affects the lungs and causes pneumonia-like symptoms.
  • Spread: Associated with contaminated water sources, including cooling towers and plumbing systems.
  • Prevention:
    • Regular Maintenance: Properly maintain water systems.
    • Disinfection: Use chlorine or other water treatment methods.

5. Amebic Brain Infections (Naegleria fowleri)

  • Symptoms: Causes a rare but deadly brain infection.
  • Spread: Enters the body through the nose when using contaminated water (e.g., neti pots).
  • Prevention:
    • Avoidance: Use safe water for nasal irrigation.
    • Swimming: Avoid warm freshwater bodies during hot weather.

6. Skin and Eye Infections (Acanthamoeba spp.)

  • Symptoms: Affects the skin and eyes.
  • Spread: Contact with contaminated water.
  • Prevention:
    • Eye Care: Properly clean and disinfect contact lenses.
    • Avoid Contaminated Water: Prevent exposure to contaminated water.
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