Waterborne diseases are the diseases which are transmitted by harmful micro-organisms that thrive in water. These micro-organisms generally enter the body when contaminated water is used for drinking, preparation of food, bathing, washing etc. They account for about 1.8 million human deaths each year, and are one of the most pertinent and serious health problems faced by the world. Waterborne diseases are especially prevalent among children in developing nations. The more common waterborne diseases are diarrhea, cholera, typhoid and hepatitis, and they affect a very large number of people who live in the tropics.
Diarrhea can be caused by viruses, protozoa’s and bacteria. When a person suffers from diarrhea, they lose excessive amounts of water and electrolytes, leading to dehydration and in the most extreme cases, death. Diarrhea can be directly linked to poor hygienic conditions and consumption of water that is not clean. Of all waterborne diseases, this is one that has the worst impact on populations. Children are especially vulnerable to diarrhea, and this also makes them susceptible to other diseases because of weakness.
It has been estimated that occurrence of diarrhea could be cut down by a third if only good hygiene could be promoted – simple things like washing hands with soap and water.
Cholera is an infection of the small intestinal tract, cause by bacteria. It leads to severe attacks of very watery diarrhea and vomiting, and that results in rapid loss of water and electrolytes. Cholera occurs in locations where there is poor sanitation, crowding, famine etc. Wars are often followed by large-scale breakout of cholera. Again, children have higher chances of being infected with waterborne diseases like cholera. It can be prevented by observing good hygienic behavior and providing access to clean drinking water.
A simple way to help those who have already contracted diarrhea and cholera is the Oral Rehydration Therapy of Oral Rehydration Solution. This is a mixture that is added to water and administered to patients to set right the loss of electrolytes and water. ORT and ORS have very efficiently cut down fatality rates caused by these two waterborne diseases. In fact, when they were introduced, it was surprising to see people who were on the brink of collapse being brought back by rehydration therapy.
Typhoid is another one of waterborne diseases and is characterized by acute fever that is caused by bacteria ingested through food and water. The symptoms make their appearance some ten to fourteen days after infection. They include very high fever, rose-colored spots on the body, especially on the abdomen and upper body, and diarrhea. Typhoid is caused due to dirty drinking water, improper disposal of sewage and also occurs on a large scale after natural disasters like floods.
Hepatitis is any infection of the liver, and is caused by two viruses – hepatitis A and hepatitis E. Symptoms include weakness, acute fever, a loss in appetite and nausea. Jaundice usually follows after a couple of days. Hepatitis is one of the waterborne diseases that is found to affect populations all over the world, whether they be in developing nations or well-developed ones.
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Vaccination has been found to be effective against hepatitis.