Waterborne Disease

Waterborne diseases are illnesses that are caused by microorganisms, viruses, or parasites that are transmitted through contaminated water. These diseases can occur when people consume or come into contact with water that has been polluted with fecal matter, pathogens, or other contaminants. Contaminated water can be from various sources such as drinking water supplies, rivers, lakes, ponds, and even improperly treated or untreated sewage.

Types & Symptoms of waterborne diseases

The symptoms of waterborne diseases can vary widely depending on the specific disease-causing microorganism, the individual's health and immune system, the level of exposure, and other factors. Here are some common symptoms associated with different types of waterborne diseases:

Bacterial Infections

Cholera: Caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae
Symptoms: Severe watery diarrhea, vomiting, dehydration, muscle cramps, and rapid heart rate.

Typhoid Fever: Caused by Salmonella Typhi bacteria
Symptoms: High fever, headache, stomach pain, weakness, loss of appetite, and rash

Shigellosis: Caused by various species of Shigella bacteria
Symptoms: Diarrhea (often bloody), fever, stomach cramps, and tenesmus (straining to pass stool).

E.coli Infections:Some strains of Escherichia coli (E. coli) can cause gastrointestinal illness.
Symptoms: Diarrhea (often bloody), stomach cramps, vomiting, and sometimes fever.

Viral Infections

Hepatitis A: An infection caused by a virus that affects the liver and is typically spread through tainted food or drink
Symptoms: Jaundice (yellowing of skin/eyes), fatigue, nausea, vomiting, abdominal pain, and dark urine.

Norovirus Infection: Causes gastroenteritis.
Symptoms: Nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, stomach cramps, and sometimes fever.

Protozoan Infections

Giardiasis: Caused by the parasite Giardia lamblia.
Symptoms: Diarrhea, bloating, gas, abdominal cramps, and weight loss.

Cryptosporidiosis: Caused by the parasite Cryptosporidium.
Symptoms: Watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and fever.

Parasitic Infections

Schistosomiasis: Caused by parasitic worms (Schistosoma species) that penetrate human skin in contaminated water and cause various health problems.
Symptoms: Itchy skin, fever, abdominal pain, blood in urine or stool, and potential organ damage.

Guinea Worm Disease: Caused by the parasitic worm Dracunculus medinensis.
Symptoms: Intense itching and a burning pain at the site of the skin lesion.

Fascioliasis: Caused by liver flukes of the genus Fasciola, often contracted by consuming contaminated water plants.
Symptoms: Fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, a swollen liver, liver function abnormalities, skin rashes, shortness of breath, and abdominal pain or tenderness.

Fungal Infections

While fungal infections are less commonly associated with waterborne transmission, certain fungi can cause skin and respiratory infections through exposure to contaminated water sources.

Other Waterborne Illnesses

Legionellosis: Caused by Legionella bacteria and usually transmitted through inhalation of contaminated water droplets, leading to pneumonia-like symptoms.
Symptoms: High fever, cough, shortness of breath, muscle aches, headache, and sometimes confusion.

Leptospirosis: Caused by the Leptospira bacteria, often acquired by coming into contact with animal urine-tainted water.
Symptoms: High fever. Red eyes (conjunctival injection). Headache.

Rotavirus Infection

Symptoms: Severe diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and dehydration, often affecting children.


Symptoms: Diarrhea (sometimes bloody), stomach cramps, fever, and muscle pain.

When to see a doctor?

Knowing when to seek medical care for waterborne diseases is vital. If you experience severe symptoms like high fever, persistent vomiting, severe dehydration, or bloody diarrhea, consult a doctor immediately. Prolonged symptoms, even mild ones, should prompt medical attention. Vulnerable groups like infants, the elderly, and those with weak immune systems need prompt care. Dehydration signs, such as dry mouth and dizziness, warrant urgent medical help. If you suspect contamination from travel or water sources, see a doctor. Pre-existing health conditions can worsen waterborne illnesses. When uncertain, consulting a healthcare professional ensures proper guidance, diagnosis, and treatment.

Causes of Waterborne Disease

Waterborne diseases are caused by microorganisms, contaminants, and pathogens that contaminate water sources. These contaminants can enter water supplies through various means and lead to infections when consumed or when they come into contact with the body. Here are the primary causes of waterborne diseases:


Bacterial pathogens like Vibrio cholerae (cholera), Salmonella Typhi (typhoid fever), Escherichia coli (E. coli), and Shigella species (shigellosis) are transmitted through water contaminated with feces, sewage, or human waste.


Water can carry viruses such as Hepatitis A, Norovirus, and Rotavirus. These viruses thrive in contaminated water and are often ingested, leading to infection.


Protozoan parasites like Giardia lamblia, Cryptosporidium, and Entamoeba histolytica cause diseases like giardiasis, cryptosporidiosis, and amoebiasis. These parasites can survive in water and are ingested by humans.


Worms like Schistosoma and Dracunculus medinensis cause schistosomiasis and Guinea worm disease, respectively. Larvae from these worms can penetrate human skin while in contact with contaminated water.


Although less common, some fungal infections can be waterborne. Exposure to contaminated water sources can lead to skin and respiratory fungal infections.

Poor Sanitation

Inadequate sewage treatment and sanitation facilities contribute to water contamination. Pathogens can spread through open defecation, poor waste management, and a lack of clean water supplies.


Industrial and agricultural runoff, as well as improper waste disposal, can introduce chemicals, heavy metals, and toxins into water sources, posing health risks.

Natural Disasters

Floods, hurricanes, and other natural disasters can contaminate water supplies, leading to disease outbreaks due to disrupted infrastructure and contamination from debris.

Lack of Clean Water

Insufficient access to safe and clean drinking water forces people to use contaminated water sources, increasing their risk of waterborne diseases.

Travel and Migration

People traveling to areas with different water quality or migrants settling in regions with inadequate sanitation may encounter new pathogens, increasing disease transmission.


Infectious waterborne-disease prevention - To avoid the transmission of contagious waterborne-disease, wash your hands. Handwashing should be done as follows:

Boil or Treat Water

Boiling water before consumption can kill most bacteria and parasites. Alternatively, using water filters or purification tablets can help make water safe to drink.

Maintain Hygiene

Regular handwashing with soap and clean water is crucial, especially before eating or handling food.

Proper Sanitation

Use proper sewage disposal systems to prevent contamination of water sources.


Check if vaccines are available for diseases like hepatitis A and typhoid, especially before travelling to areas with higher risk.

Avoiding Contaminated Areas

Be cautious around bodies of water known to be contaminated, and avoid consuming raw or undercooked seafood.

Risk Factors

Infectious waterborne-disease prevention - To avoid the transmission of contagious waterborne-disease, wash your hands. Handwashing should be done as follows:

Lack of Clean Water

Communities without access to safe drinking water are at higher risk.

Poor Sanitation

Inadequate sewage systems and waste disposal increase contamination chances.

Crowded Living

Close contact in crowded areas increases disease spread.


Infants, elderly, and immune-compromised individuals are more vulnerable.


Weakened immunity due to malnutrition heightens susceptibility.


Exposure to unfamiliar pathogens while traveling increases risk.

Natural Disasters

Disrupted water systems during disasters lead to contamination.


Waterborne diseases can lead to various complications, especially if left untreated or if the immune system is compromised. The severity of complications depends on the specific pathogen causing the illness and the individual's overall health


Diarrhea and vomiting caused by waterborne diseases can lead to severe dehydration, especially in children and the elderly. Dehydration can be life-threatening if not promptly managed.

Electrolyte Imbalance

Loss of fluids and electrolytes due to diarrhea and vomiting can disrupt the balance of the body's vital electrolytes, including sodium, potassium, and chloride. This can lead to weakness, dizziness, muscle cramps, and even cardiac arrhythmias.


Frequent bouts of waterborne illnesses can impair nutrient absorption and lead to malnutrition, particularly in children. Malnutrition weakens the immune system, making individuals more susceptible to infections.

Chronic Infections

Some waterborne pathogens can establish chronic infections that persist in the body if not properly treated. These chronic infections can cause ongoing health problems and may require prolonged medical intervention.

Organ Damage

Certain waterborne diseases can lead to organ damage. For instance, amoebiasis can result in liver abscesses, and schistosomiasis can damage the liver, bladder, and intestines

Secondary Infections

Weakened immune systems resulting from waterborne diseases can make individuals more susceptible to secondary bacterial, viral, or fungal infection.

Economic Impact

Waterborne disease outbreaks strain healthcare systems, reduce productivity, and lead to economic losses due to medical costs and lost workdays.


In severe cases, waterborne diseases can lead to fatal outcomes, especially in areas with limited access to medical care or in individuals with compromised immune systems.


The diagnosis of waterborne diseases involves a combination of clinical evaluation, medical history assessment, and laboratory testing. Here's how the diagnosis process typically works:

Clinical Assessment

A healthcare provider will start by assessing your symptoms, including details about the onset, duration, and severity of symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, fever, and abdominal pain. They will also inquire about recent travel history, exposure to contaminated water sources, and any potential risk factors.

Medical History

Providing information about recent travels, water sources used, and any potential exposure to contaminated water helps the healthcare provider narrow down the possible causes of the illness.

Physical Examination

A physical examination will be done by the medical professional to check for signs of dehydration, fever, abdominal tenderness, and other relevant symptoms.

Laboratory Testing

  • Stool Samples: Collecting stool samples allows laboratory technicians to identify the presence of bacteria, parasites, or other pathogens that might be causing the illness. Stool samples can be tested for the presence of particular pathogens or infection-related indicators.
  • Blood Tests: Blood tests may be carried out to detect markers of infection, such as elevated white blood cell counts or specific antibodies against pathogens.
  • Viral Tests: For viral waterborne diseases like Hepatitis A, blood tests can help diagnose the infection by detecting specific viral antigens or antibodies.
  • PCR (Polymerase Chain Reaction) Tests: PCR tests are molecular tests that can identify the genetic material of pathogens, providing accurate and rapid detection.
  • Cultures: Some bacteria can be cultured in a laboratory to identify the specific strain causing the infection. This can help guide appropriate antibiotic treatment.


In some cases, imaging studies such as ultrasound or X-rays might be conducted to assess the extent of organ involvement or complications associated with certain waterborne diseases

Travel History

If you've traveled recently, informing your healthcare provider about your travel history is crucial, as it can help identify specific pathogens that might be common in certain regions.


The treatment of waterborne diseases depends on the specific disease and its underlying cause, whether it's caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites, or other microorganisms. Here is a general overview of the treatment approaches:


For many waterborne diseases, the primary concern is dehydration due to diarrhea and vomiting. Rehydration is essential to restore lost fluids and electrolytes. Oral rehydration solutions (ORS) containing salts and sugars can be applied to treat mild to moderate dehydration. Severe cases may require intravenous (IV) fluids administered in a healthcare facility.


Bacterial infections like cholera, typhoid fever, and certain cases of dysentery can be treated with antibiotics. The particular bacterium that is infecting you will determine the medication you need. Antibiotics can lessen symptom severity and lengthen the course of a disease.

Antiviral Medications

Viral waterborne diseases like Hepatitis A may not have specific antiviral treatments, but supportive treatment is given to control symptoms and let the immune system of the body get rid of the infection.

Antiparasitic Drugs

Parasitic infections like giardiasis and amoebiasis can be treated with antiparasitic medications. These drugs target the parasites causing the infection and help eliminate them from the body.

Supportive Care

Adequate rest and proper nutrition are important for the body to recover from any illness, including waterborne diseases. Maintaining a balanced diet and getting enough fluids are crucial during recovery.


Preventing further exposure to contaminated water sources is key to avoiding reinfection. In order to prevent waterborne infections, it is essential to have access to clean and safe drinking water, practice good hygiene, and maintain sufficient sanitation.

Dos and Don’ts

Do’s Don’ts
Drink Safe Water: Do drink water from clean and reliable sources, such as treated tap water, bottled water, or water that has been properly purified. Don't Consume Contaminated Water: Don't drink water from questionable sources like untreated rivers, lakes, or streams that might be contaminated.
Use Safe Water Treatment: Do use water purification methods like boiling, filtering, or using water purifiers to ensure the water you consume is safe. Don't Neglect Hand Hygiene: Don't neglect proper handwashing, especially after using the restroom, changing diapers, or handling animals.
Practice Good Hygiene: Do wash your hands thoroughly with soap and clean water before eating or touching your face, especially after using the restroom. Avoid Consuming Raw or Uncooked Food: Don't consume raw or undercooked seafood, meat, or other foods that could be contaminated.
Sanitize Food and Utensils: Do wash fruits and vegetables with clean water, and use clean utensils and cooking equipment to prevent contamination. Avoid Ice in Questionable Locations: Don't use ice made from tap water in areas where the water quality is questionable.
Properly Dispose of Waste: Do dispose of waste and sewage properly to prevent contamination of water sources. Avoid Swallowing Water While Swimmin Don't swallow water while swimming in pools, lakes, rivers, or oceans, as it could be contaminated.
Immunizations:Do get vaccinated against waterborne diseases like Hepatitis A if you are at risk or plan to travel to areas with poor sanitation. Don't Use Untreated Water for Hygiene: Don't use untreated water for brushing teeth, cleaning dishes, or washing food.
Boil Water When Unsure:Do boil water if you're unsure about its safety. Boiling water for at least one minute can help kill most pathogens. Avoid Open Defecation: Don't practice open defecation, as it contaminates the environment and water sources.

Home Remedies

While seeking medical care from healthcare professionals is the recommended approach for treating waterborne diseases, there are some home remedies and practices that can help alleviate symptoms and support recovery. It's important to note that these remedies should not replace medical treatment, especially in severe cases. Here are a few home remedies that might provide relief:

Oral Rehydration Solution (ORS)

ORS can be prepared at home using clean water, salt, and sugar. It helps replace lost fluids and electrolytes due to diarrhea and vomiting.

Clear Fluids

Drinking clear fluids like clear broths, herbal teas, and diluted fruit juices can help prevent dehydration and maintain hydration levels.

Bananas and Rice

Eating bland foods like bananas and plain rice can help soothe the stomach and provide some nourishment.


Ginger can help alleviate nausea and promote digestion. Boiling fresh ginger slices in water will produce ginger tea.


Peppermint or spearmint tea may help ease stomach discomfort and reduce nausea


Consuming foods rich in natural probiotics, like yogurt with live cultures, can help restore the balance of gut bacteria.

Cumin Seeds

Boiling cumin seeds in water and drinking the strained mixture can help relieve stomach cramps and indigestion.

Coconut Water

Coconut water can assist the body rehydrate and is a natural supply of electrolytes

Chamomile Tea

Chamomile tea has anti-inflammatory properties and may help soothe digestive issues.


Get plenty of rest to allow your body to recover and heal.

Care at medicover

At Medicover Hospitals, for waterborne diseases, expect thorough evaluation, diagnostics, tailored treatment plans with medications and rehydration, and supportive care. Staff will focus on hydration and nutrition. Isolation measures might be taken if needed. For precise information, contact Medicover Hospitals directly or visit their website. Please note, my information might not reflect the most current practices, so verifying with the hospital is recommended.

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Frequently Asked Questions

1. What are waterborne diseases?

Waterborne diseases are illnesses caused by microorganisms or contaminants that contaminate water sources, leading to infections when consumed or when they come into contact with the body.

2. How do waterborne diseases spread?

Waterborne diseases spread through the ingestion of contaminated water, consumption of contaminated food, or contact with contaminated water sources.

3. What are the common symptoms of waterborne diseases?

Common symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, abdominal pain, fever, dehydration, nausea, and fatigue, though symptoms can vary based on the specific disease.

4. How can waterborne diseases be prevented?

Preventive measures include using safe water sources, practicing good hygiene, maintaining proper sanitation, properly cooking and handling food, and getting vaccinated if available.

5. What are some common types of waterborne diseases?

Common types include cholera, typhoid fever, hepatitis A, giardiasis, cryptosporidiosis, amoebiasis, and more.

6. How are waterborne diseases diagnosed?

Diagnosis involves a combination of clinical assessment, medical history, and laboratory tests on samples like stool or blood to identify the causative agent.

7. What is the treatment for waterborne diseases?

Treatment depends on the specific disease and may involve rehydration, medications (antibiotics, antiparasitics), and supportive care. Seek medical attention for proper treatment.

8. What should I do if I suspect a waterborne disease?

Seek medical attention if you experience symptoms after potential exposure to contaminated water. Do not self-diagnose or self-medicate.

9. Can waterborne diseases lead to complications?

Yes, waterborne diseases can lead to complications like dehydration, electrolyte imbalances, organ damage, and even death if left untreated.

10. Is it safe to drink tap water in all places?

The safety of tap water varies by location. In some areas, tap water is treated and safe to drink, while in others, it may be advisable to use water purification methods.