Understanding water-borne diseases

By Steve Swatzel - Contributing columnist



A disease that comes from exposure to water contaminated with parasites, bacteria, viruses, or toxic chemicals is known as a water-borne disease.

Exposure to these contaminates could come from swimming, bathing in, or drinking untreated water. Consuming food that is washed with contaminated water could also result in a waterborne disease. Some examples of these contaminates are E coli, Giardia, Cryptosporidium, Hepatitis A, Shigella, Norovirus, Schistosoma (swimmers itch), and even Legionnaires’ disease. Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs) which are Cyanobacteria, have also known to cause disease and illness.

Symptoms of a water-borne disease typically include vomiting and severe diarrhea, but they may also include upper respiratory and skin manifestations. More serious health complications from a waterborne disease could occur in certain groups of people including pregnant women, young children, seniors, anyone with underlying medical condition and anyone with a weakened immune system.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) swimming in untreated ponds and rivers are often the source of a waterborne diseases. Similar outbreaks of disease have been known to come from poorly maintained public swimming pools and hot tubs.

There are several easy ways to prevent these illnesses.

Install, maintain, and properly operate your sewage treatment system. One of the largest documented waterborne disease outbreaks in the United States involved contaminated groundwater in Dade County, Florida in 1974, when approximately 1,200 cases of acute gastrointestinal illness occurred. An investigation disclosed that a public water well was contaminated by a single septic system approximately 125 feet from the well.

Practice good personal hygiene. Frequent hand washing especially after using the bathroom or handling animals, and before touching your face or preparing and eating food will prevent ingesting the harmful bacteria and viruses. Hands must be washed with soap and water for at least 20 seconds to be fully effective.

Consume only treated water. When swimming in pools, hot tubs, rivers, ponds, or the ocean try not to swallow water, as it may contain elevated levels of the waterborne disease pathogens. When traveling do not drink tap water or use ice unless you know its from a safe or properly treated source. Look for public health advisories for any recreational pools, lakes, rivers, or beaches before heading to your destination. The advisories inform the public when levels of bacteria are too high at public beaches and rivers and may be unsafe to swim in. Also, avoid swimming in warm, slow moving, stagnant water or next to storm water drains or in flooded water. If you have open wounds, you should avoid swimming in untreated water. You can find more information on public health advisories and beach monitoring in Ohio at the Meigs County Health Department’s website, (www.meigs-health.com) and the Ohio Department of Health website, (www.odh.ohio.gov).


By Steve Swatzel

Contributing columnist

Steve Swatzel is the Environmental Health Director for the Meigs County Health Department.

Steve Swatzel is the Environmental Health Director for the Meigs County Health Department.