Waterborne diseases pose a serious threat to the health of the people in areas of warfare and conflict and areas affected by natural disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, floods and cyclones. Disease epidemics can spread through unsafe drinking water and contaminated water used to bathe, swim in or wash fruit and vegetables.
Diarrheal disease alone is the reason of 1.8 million deaths every year (WHO, 2004). Areas of natural disaster and post war or conflict societies suffer loss of infrastructure including sanitation and clean water. A lack of human resources also overwhelms local health facilities. This results in inadequate treatment of casualties and difficulty in identifying the waterborne disease outbreak effectively.
Further Discussions About Waterborne Diseases
Over burdened health facilities also often fail to meet safe sanitation conditions to create healthy environments for patients, relatives and staff. Most waterborne diseases affect the intestines and digestive tract causing symptoms which commonly include diarrhea, emesis, fever, and nausea.
Typhoid fever is a most common disease, caused by ingesting food or water contaminated with Salmonella enteric, a type of bacteria. Around 12 million people are influenced by this disease every year. Its symptoms include loss of appetite, nausea and headaches. Another common waterborne health problem is diarrhea. This can lead to dehydration and other serious complications.
Severe diarrhea with cramps and regurgitation can be life threatening. If left untreated, patients may lose up to a litre of water per hour. Patients with severe dehydration can succumb to diarrhea as rapidly as 6 hours from the appearance of symptoms. Children and pregnant women are particularly vulnerable.
Vibrio cholerae. Symptoms of cholera include copious diarrhea, vomiting and leg cramps. In some severe cases, it can cause death due to dehydration.
Other water-borne diseases include cholera which has affected areas of war-torn Iraq and Afghanistan. Higher summer temperatures make conditions favorable for the growth of the bacteria Vibrio cholerae. This causes the disease by infecting the intestine. Cholera spreads quickly and in wide areas through water and it is a serious matter. Guidelines to control the bacteria include strict testing, control of sewage to prevent contamination of water supplies and chlorination of water to kill the bacteria. Boiling water also kills the bacteria and eating raw vegetables and fruits which may have been washed in contaminated water should be avoided.
Dysentry is a water-borne disease, which like cholera is spread by fecal contaminated food and water. It causes and inflammation of the bowel characterized with blood in frequent bowel movements and dehydration. Outbreaks of dysentery is a major problem among refugee populations where overcrowding and poor sanitation cause the disease to spread quickly. Most deaths caused by dysentery are among children below the age of five years.
Typhoid fever is an infection of the blood and intestines caused by the bacteria Salmonella typhis spread through contaminated water, food and beverages. It may cause mild to severe symptoms including sustained fevers, fatigue, headache, pink colored spots on the chest area, constipation or diarrhea, weight loss, and an enlarged spleen and liver. Symptoms usually appear one to three weeks after exposure. Paratyphoid fever is a milder form of typhoid.
People infected with salmonella usually begin to notice symptoms with 12 to 72 hours. Common signs include fever, chills, muscle pain, headaches, abdominal cramps, diarrhea, and blood in the stool. Symptoms usually subside in four to seven days.
Common viral waterborne diseases are polio, hepatitis A, and adenovirus infection and protozoal diseases spread through unsafe water include amebiasis, giardiasis and microsporidiosis. Prevention includes boiling or treating water with chemicals or UV sterilization.