Water borne diseases: types and causes

Water borne diseases: types and causes

Water borne diseases are caused by pathogens transmitted in water. These diseases can be spread by bathing, washing, drinking water or food that is contaminated by the organisms. In Africa, a large number of child mortalities are caused by these diseases. World Health Organization estimates that these diseases cause about 2 million deaths annually. This is because of lack of clean drinking water and poor hygiene practices. The pathogens that cause these diseases are basically bacteria, protozoa and other intestinal parasites that attack the digestive and circulatory tissues. This post looks at examples of water borne diseases and more about them.

Waterborne diseases

Many till date are victims of common water borne diseases due poor hygiene and also ignorance. Most people know it is important to drink clean water and wash hands before meals but then still ignore such basic things in their day to day activities. Below is a comprehensive list of some of the most common water borne diseases in Ghana.

1. Cholera

Cholera is an infectious disease that causes severe diarrhoea, dehydration and finally death if untreated. It is specifically caused by bacteria called vibrio cholera. This deadly disease is caused by drinking contaminated water. This disease is prevalent in Africa and it is responsible for over 100,000 deaths each year.

Common causes of cholera include; municipal water supplies, foods and drinks made from the municipal water, vegetables grown from wastes, raw and undercooked food which has contact with the polluted water. Once a person ingests food with these particular bacteria, they release toxins in the intestines which then cause diarrhoea.


Cholera starts to spread after a few hours or days after ingestion. A person starts to diarrhoea, vomit and this person gets severely dehydrated. The main signs of cholera are a rapid heartbeat, sagged skin, dry mucous membrane, frequent thirst, low blood pressure and muscle cramps. The symptoms of cholera are very severe and if not treated an individual might get into shock and later on die due to dehydration.

Treatment and prevention

They say prevention is better than cure, and this is very true. There is a vaccine that treats cholera but you can keep yourself and your family safe by good hygiene practises. These practices are boiling drinking water. Boiling water kills all the bacteria and prevents cholera. Use the disinfected water to cook, making ice, brushing teeth, washing face and hands cleaning dishes and also washing foods and vegetables before using. The other hygiene practices are observing general hygiene, washing hands before and after handling foods, after visiting the toilet, and been after doing activities like washing the house. Ensure that you peel your fruits, boil milk and cook your food well especially meat. These are some of the best solutions for water borne diseases. An individual with cholera is put under strong antibiotics to reduce the spread of the bacteria. An individual is also advised to immediately visit the hospital once they start experiencing such symptoms.

2. Typhoid

Typhoid is an acute illness that is mainly caused by bacteria that is scientifically known as the Salmonella typhi. The bacteria are normally found in food and water and it spreads by a human carrier. A person who is severely infected can pass this disease through stool. Contamination of water can also cause a large spread of typhoid. The salmonella normally invades the small intestines and then enters the blood stream. The bacteria are carried inside the white blood cells in the liver, bone marrow and spleen. The bacteria multiply and invade other parts of the body. The bacteria are detected using a stool sample, blood or urine. Either way typhoid is a deadly disease. It is highly infectious and in most cases, people die if untreated. This is one of food and water borne diseases.


The incubation period of the salmonella bacteria is 1-2 weeks. However the duration of illness is 3-4 weeks. The symptoms include a poor appetite, headaches, fever, lethargy diarrhoea and also nausea. Abdominal pains are very severe for an individual with typhoid and also chest congestion is common. A person might feel better after sometime and then the symptoms recur. This is the period before the bacteria attacks other body tissues.


After being infected by the bacteria, most people suffer from the above symptoms. It is very necessary to get tested once these symptoms appear. Ina addition to that, typhoid is cured by antibiotics that are injected and then taken orally. The antibiotics help to kill bacteria and completely remove it from the blood stream. Just like cholera this disease is vey preventable. The reason why most countries in Africa have a high prevalence in typhoid is because of the sewage and poor drainage systems. In towns, people are overcrowded and this causes the hygiene to be surprised. However this can change by proper hygiene practices. The fatality rate of typhoid is high and since we can change this, then the rate should decrease. Boiling water before drinking it, washing hand before handling food are some of the practices that we could adopt to eliminate this deadly disease.

3. Bilharzia

Bilharzia is also known as schistosomiasis or snail fever. It is a disease that is cause by a parasitic worm. The worms are of different species and it mainly affects the intestines and the urinary tract. This parasite lives in the blood cells and this means that it can also affect other part of the body. The disease is both acute and chronic depending on the stage of infection. The parasite can also affect the lungs, brain and the nervous system. The area of the damage depends on the species of the worm. Bilharzia is not immediately fatal but prolonged lack of treatment can severely damage the internal organs. Some of the species of parasites also affect bird and mammals like the water buffalo. Bilharzia is one of the water borne diseases names.


Infection of this disease starts when an individual comes into contact with water that has the species of the parasite. The parasites enter the body of a host when swimming, washing or even paddling through the contaminated water. The infective form of the fluke is known as the cercariae which penetrate through the skin and into the blood. The worm then affects intestines, urinary system, spinal cord, liver, spleen and also the brain. The first stage starts when the eggs enter the water when infected stool gets into the water or urine. The eggs hatch and reproduce into snails. The cercariae are then released and they can survive for 48hours. People who are at high risk of getting infected are the swimmers, those who work in large water bodies. The worm easily penetrates through the skin looking for host and multiplies inside the body and finally does great damage to the internal organs.

Bilharzias can affect anyone who has contact to contaminated water.


Symptoms take around 14-84 days to appear and after 3 weeks of infection, a person is bound to experience a headache, rash, fever, body aches and breathing difficulties. These symptoms depend on the type of worm that has infected you. The breathing difficulties are as a result of the worm that affects the lungs. These symptoms are only evident in the acute stage. At the chronic stage, symptoms like diarrhoea, constipation, blood in faeces, intestinal ulcers and liver fibrosis are inevitable. Other sever cases are hypertension and high blood pressure. Painful urination and a higher risk of cancer are also long term effects of bilharzia.

Diagnosis and treatment

A person who has contacted bilharzias should be in a position to answer question like where they have travelled, how long they travelled and if they had any contact to contaminated water. No vaccine can really help to reduce the impact of the parasitic infection. If a test of an individual is positive, then a drug is administered. An oral dose of the drug is also advised for people living in areas with high risks. The best prevention for bilharzia is washing hands with boiled water, treatment of pools, treatment of the main water supplies and avoiding getting into water that is contaminated. This can be done by observing proper hygiene, adequate kitchen hygiene and personal hygiene.

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4. Dysentery

Dysentery is any case of bloody diarrhoea. The causative agent is found in water that is contaminated by human faeces and then finds its way in the oral route. Dysentery is therefore a reaction of the body towards the unwanted organism. The causative agents include amoeba, or number of bacteria including the salmonella. Each year, dysentery claims many lives especially of individuals living in developing areas who have poor sanitation. The shagilla bacteria lead to bacillary dysentery which is more common as compared to amoeba dysentery. These bacteria thrive in food and water that is contaminated by human faeces. Amoebic dysentery is transmitted in contaminated water and it is common in industrialized countries where industrial wastes get into the water. All humans are susceptible to dysentery specially those who have contact with contaminated water. This is one of the water borne diseases Ghana.


People with dysentery mainly suffer from bloody diarrhoea which accompanied by fever intense abdominal pain and rapid weight loss. They also suffer abdominal cramps, fever, vomiting and mucus in stool. The people with dysentery are advised to see a doctor once these symptoms start. Diarrhoea is basically curable with antibiotics and other drugs that reduce the diarrhoea. The individuals are also advised to take a lot of fluids to reduce the dehydration.

Treatment and prevention

Just like the other water borne diseases listed above, the best prevention for dysentery is proper hygiene practices.

5. Giardia and cryptosporidium parasites

The two are microscopic parasites that can be present in contaminated in water. The parasites are common in recreational waters like pools and also drinking water from the taps. Giardia parasites are found in human, beaver and also dog faeces. When the stool gets into contact with drinking water, then the person who drinks the water is likely to suffer from the disease. The most people at risk are travellers, or people who drink water from wells or untreated sources. Several outbreaks have been experienced before in the world and the outbreak was mostly linked with drinking water from untreated sources. Once the parasites get in the body of host, they become a host and soon enough multiply to cause several complications.

Signs and symptoms

The signs and symptoms of this disease are not much different from other water borne diseases. They include fever, vomiting, chills and a headache. The headache may be persistent or may go on for some time then recur. The symptoms start about a week after contact with the parasites as a result of contaminated water or food. The infection can last a week or two depending on the stage of illness. The illness can either be chronic acute. At the chronic stage, severe symptoms are bound to start. They include severe diarrhoea or nausea.


The disease is treatable and can also be prevented. The preventive measures are no different from the rest. All an individual needs to do is to treat drinking water. Use clean water for bathing, washing and also cleaning things around the household. Also ensure that you ash all the fruits and vegetables thoroughly before cooking. It is very important to note that contaminated water is very deadly especially that which is connected to a sewerage system. Crowded areas like slums are at a higher risk of contracting the water borne diseases.

People who get water borne diseases are advised to finish their dosage because if not the bacteria or parasites can recur. It is therefore very necessary to finish the dosage. That aside, all water borne diseases are related to contaminated water. So the first step to fight such an outbreak is to ensure that drinking water is boiled or treated. Main sources of water in most countries are treated and this is very important. In Ghana efforts to fight the water borne diseases have been put in place and the ministry of health and the ministry of water have worked hand in hand to ensure that people have access to clean drinking water. However as much as efforts have been placed by the government it is important to stop contamination and the spread of these diseases at the household level.


The information in this article is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. All content including text, graphics, images, and information contained on or available through this page is for general information purposes only.

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Source: Yen.com.gh

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