Common Waterborne DIseases


We use water every day to keep ourselves clean and healthy. What you might not know is that it also can make us sick if we’re not careful. That’s because in certain places around the world, there may be some invisible and dangerous invaders hiding in the water supply. These tiny creatures are called bacteria, viruses and parasites. As a group, they’re known as “pathogens,” and what they all have in common is that they love to make us feel bad.

Even though you can’t see them, there may be millions of pathogens in a single glass of water. Once they get inside the body, they start attacking. They can give you painful stomach cramps, make you throw up or even cause you to feel like you have the flu. Depending on how strong the germs are, it can take a long time to get better, and you may need to visit the hospital or take medicine to start feeling normal again.

It’s important to know what each of these microscopic scoundrels can do. In that sense, being a doctor is a lot like being a detective: A doctor needs to discover the identity of these supervillains in order to defeat them once and for all.

Where Do They Originate?

Usually, the bad guys from cartoons and comic books come from outer space or other dimensions. However, many of the evildoers lurking in dirty water come from earth, specifically poop. Yes, poop.

How does poop get into our water? Rain can wash feces from farms, wild animals and sewer systems into rivers and streams that then flow into the lakes and reservoirs that give us what we drink. This is why the water that comes to our homes has to be treated and cleaned before we can use it.

Other types of pathogens, such as Legionella bacteria, can grow in pipes if they aren’t kept clean. Additionally, sometimes eating foods that haven’t been cooked properly might be the source of our sickness.

How Do Pathogens Make You Sick?

Because most of them enter the digestive system, pathogens can cause the same symptoms as the stomach flu. This means you could vomit, feel crampy or queasy, or have diarrhea. In some cases, you might experience headaches, a fever, the chills or coughing fits.

How Can You Get Better?

If one of these diseases infects you, don’t worry — often, all you need is some rest. Most of the time these illnesses are mild, and your body’s immune system can knock them out all by itself.

Other times, however, you might need a little help from a doctor. He or she can give you antibiotics, which are powerful medicines that kill certain bacteria. In the case of viruses, you may be able to get a vaccine. A vaccination is a shot that tells your body how to beat the virus and can prevent you from getting sick in the first place.

When water is kept clean, it does a lot of good things for us. This is why it’s so important to use it only when we know it’s safe. To learn more about seven of the most common tiny bad guys that can be hiding in our water, check out the infographic you see here.

Categorized as Health

By Finn

Finn Oliver Edwards: Finn, a pediatric nurse, shares child health tips, parenting advice, and preventive measures for common childhood illnesses.