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Water borne diseases are a group of infectious diseases that are spread through water.

The World Health Organization (WHO) has identified over 200 different waterborne diseases, but they all have one thing in common: they’re spread through contaminated water. In the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that over 1.7 million people become sick from a waterborne disease each year. Although most people don’t think about it, humans need access to clean drinking water to survive. Water is necessary for hydration and maintaining bodily functions, so it’s important to understand how these diseases are spread and how to prevent them.

What causes water borne diseases?

Water borne diseases can be caused by bacteria, viruses or parasites that live in or contaminate drinking water. These pathogens enter the body through ingestion or physical contact with contaminated sources of drinking water. Some pathogens can also be transmitted through food or other means.

What types of pathogens cause these infections?

Bacteria: Bacteria are single-celled organisms that can cause illness when ingested by humans. Bacteria may live in soil, air or on surfaces like clothing and toilets where they can contaminate our drinking water supply.

Viruses: Viruses are smaller than bacteria and cannot be seen with the naked eye. They infect our bodies when we ingest contaminated food or drink and some viruses may even be present in seawater.

Parasites: Parasites such as Giardia lamblia infect humans when we consume their eggs found in polluted waters.

“How do I know if I have a water borne disease?”
  • Common symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and abdominal pain
  • Symptoms may appear within hours after exposure
  • Persistent diarrhea may indicate an infection