Waterborne diseases are a serious public health concern, affecting millions of people worldwide each year. Many of these water-related illnesses can lead to severe health conditions, such as dehydration, diarrhea, and vomiting. They can even result in death if not treated in time. The World Health Organization estimates that water-related illnesses cause over 1 million deaths annually and affect over 844 million people in developing countries.
However, many people don’t realize that some waterborne diseases can also occur in communities across the United States. And no matter where you live, knowledge is power. So to help you stay informed about potential bacterial contaminants, here are six of the most dangerous waterborne contaminants common in our world today.
Waterborne Diseases to Watch Out for
Cryptosporidium, or “Crypto,” is one of the most common waterborne diseases in the US. It’s an intestinal infection that can be spread through contaminated water or food. Symptoms typically include watery diarrhea and abdominal cramps. While it usually resolves independently after a few days, Crypto shouldn’t be taken lightly, as it can cause severe symptoms in people with weakened immune systems.
2. E. coli
E. coli, short for Escherichia coli, is a type of bacterium found in water and food sources. Many people know E. coli due to product recalls, which can affect produce like watermelons, spinach, lettuce, and more. But this bacterium can also impact our health through contaminated H2O. For instance, outbreaks of E. coli have been reported at water parks and water sources contaminated by feces.
While some strains of E. coli are harmless, certain types of this waterborne illness can cause severe gastrointestinal symptoms, including watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, and vomiting. In the most serious cases, those infected with an E. coli infection may experience life-threatening kidney damage. The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services reports that E. coli infections are responsible for approximately 265,000 illnesses and 100 deaths in the US each year.
Legionella is a waterborne bacteria that’s doubly dangerous because it’s not only consumable through unclean H2O but can also be inhaled in humid environments. If a victim breathes in contaminated water droplets, the Legionella can cause a potentially deadly form of pneumonia called Legionnaire’s Disease.
This bacteria was discovered relatively recently, in 1976, at a Pennsylvania convention of Legionnaires, a non-profit veteran services group. An outbreak of pneumonia swept the conventioners, caused by the presence of Legionella dripping condensation from a hotel air conditioning system. This outbreak among the Legionnaires, which killed 34 of the 221 people infected, is what gave rise to the name Legionella.
Cholera is another water-related illness caused by bacterial contamination of water sources. The disease causes severe gastrointestinal distress and can lead to dehydration if left untreated. Cholera outbreaks occur when water is contaminated with sewage containing the bacteria Vibrio cholerae, which can live in water for months. While cholera is uncommon in first-world countries, it is still a major threat internationally. Every year, an estimated 3–5 million people become infected and over 100,000 die from cholera.
5. Harmful Algae Blooms (HABs)
While not technically diseases, harmful algae blooms, or HABs for short, can result in serious illness. HABs are large concentrations of algae caused by water pollution and other environmental imbalances. These blooms can contaminate water with a variety of toxins, including microcystin, which is a waterborne toxin produced by blue-green algae. Microcystin is dangerous because it can harm water-breathing organisms, like aquatic creatures. And if humans consume water contaminated with this toxin, they could experience nausea, vomiting, fever, and more.
HABs occur when water sources contain high levels of nutrients such as phosphorous or nitrogen that fuel algae growth. While the HABs themselves may not directly infect humans, they can be linked to deadly diseases like gastroenteritis or skin irritation in swimmers who come in contact with water contaminated with these blooms. This is especially relevant in areas like Florida, where algae blooms tend to proliferate.
Giardia is a dangerous waterborne disease caused by a parasite found in water sources that have been contaminated with human or animal feces. This infection commonly produces digestive symptoms similar to those caused by Crypto, including watery diarrhea, abdominal cramps, bloating, nausea, and vomiting. Giardia is known to cause headaches and fatigue, as well.
How to Avoid Waterborne Diseases
Though waterborne diseases are a threat in both first-world countries and developing nations alike, there are steps you can take to protect yourself from these bacteria. If traveling to an area prone to waterborne diseases, be sure to drink water only from bottles that are sealed and use water sources certified by the local government.
You can also protect yourself at home by understanding how to purify your water supply of potential contamination. One of the most effective ways is to invest in water treatment systems like water filters that can help reduce levels of illness-causing bacteria in your home’s water sources. By taking proactive steps to protect your water supply, you can help ensure that your entire family stays healthy and safe from dangerous waterborne diseases.
Prioritize Clean, Safe H2O with The Science of Water
At The Science of Water, we understand that tap water safety is a critical priority to protect your health and your family. That’s why we offer free tap water testing and consultations to guarantee the safety of your water supply.
At The Science of Water, we assess and install water filtration systems to meet your unique needs. Using filtration technology backed by NASA and the EPA, our advanced water systems purify your home’s tap water to the highest standard. Whatever you’re looking for in a water filtration system, we can help you enjoy safer, clearer, and more delicious water through every faucet and appliance in your home.
Don’t wait to find out about contamination when it’s already too late. Proactively protect your household with tap water testing and filtration for pure, delicious water that can be relied on. For more information about The Science of Water or to book your free water test, just get in touch with our team today!