If you are exposed to contaminated water, you can develop many different diseases. For example, if you drink contaminated water, you may get sick with cholera or typhoid fever. If you swim in contaminated water, you may develop skin infections like a swimmer’s itch or swimmer’s ear.
If you bathe in contaminated water, you may contract scabies or ringworm. And if the contamination is severe enough, it could even lead to life-threatening illnesses like colon cancer and kidney disease.
Some of the worst cases of water contamination in history were caused by the U.S. military at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina between 1953 and 1987. During this time period, thousands of Marines were exposed to carcinogenic chemicals, including benzene and trichloroethylene (TCE).
As a result of this exposure, some of them developed serious health problems, including multiple myeloma, breast cancer, lung cancer, and Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, among others.
The Camp Lejeune Water Contamination settlement amounts, however, alleviate the suffering of the victims to some extent by providing them with compensation for their medical bills and other expenses associated with acquiring these life-threatening conditions.
Having said that, here are a few diseases you could develop after consuming contaminated water:
Cholera is an infectious disease that causes severe diarrhea and vomiting. It’s caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholera, which is spread through contaminated water or food.
According to the World Health Organization, roughly 1.3 to 4.0 million people get infected with cholera every year, and 21,000 to 143,000 die from it. There are currently no vaccines or medicines available for treating cholera.
Cholera can be prevented by following safe water and food practices, including boiling water before drinking it or using an appropriate filter, washing hands thoroughly with soap after using the toilet or before eating, cleaning surfaces that have been contaminated with feces, and never swallowing water while swimming in a lake or river where someone has been sick.
Diarrhea is a common symptom of waterborne illness. It’s caused by an infection of the intestine and can be quite serious.
In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), numerous waterborne illnesses result in diarrhea and fluid loss, which all too frequently lead to severe dehydration and mortality. The sixth most common cause of death in children under the age of five is diarrhea.
Moreover, children’s growth and cognitive development might be hindered by persistent and frequent diarrhea, and their susceptibility to various infectious diseases is also increased. About 88% of deaths related to diarrhea are brought on by contaminated water, poor sanitation, and poor hygiene.
The good news is that you can minimize the possibility of developing diarrhea by following these steps:
- Keep your hands clean. Wash them well with soap and warm water before preparing food, handling food, eating food, or touching your face or mouth (thank you for doing this already).
- Don’t drink untreated water from rivers or lakes (that’s why we have taps).
- Don’t swallow water when swimming in an untreated pool or lake—rinse yourself off instead.
Typhoid is an infectious disease that is caused by the bacterium Salmonella typhi. It can be transmitted to humans through contaminated food and water.
As per CDC, the majority of cases of typhoid and paratyphoid fever occur in places with poor hygienic conditions. This encompasses portions of Africa, the Caribbean, Central, and South America, the Middle East, and sections of Asia (particularly India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh).
There are roughly 350 cases of typhoid fever and 90 cases of paratyphoid fever diagnosed per year in the United States. The majority of these individuals traveled abroad.
Typhoid fever is transmitted from person to person by ingesting food or drink that is contaminated with the feces of an infected person. Typhoid fever can also be spread by eating or drinking food prepared by someone who handled raw meat, poultry, or seafood and did not wash their hands properly after going to the bathroom.
Infected people can also spread the disease through their stools or urine, especially if they do not wash their hands after going to the bathroom and before preparing food for others.
Here’s how you can minimize the possibility of developing typhoid:
- Wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water after using the toilet and before preparing food, eating, or touching other people.
- Avoid drinking water from contaminated sources, such as lakes, rivers, ponds, and wells.
- Drink bottled water or boil the water for at least 1-3 minutes before drinking it.
The harmful effects of contaminated water can be wide-ranging.
The most common illnesses caused by drinking contaminated water are diarrheal diseases and typhoid fever (the latter of which is one of the most serious illnesses in developing countries).
In addition to these health concerns, the lack of access to clean drinking water can lead to the spread of disease through poor hygiene practices. If you’re concerned about your health after exposure to contaminated water, consult a physician immediately.