9 Diseases Caused by Water Pollution

Thousands to hundreds of millions of deaths around the world have been associated with diseases caused by water pollution. Often because so many individuals have been living without adequate access to clean and safe water supply especially those in developing countries.

Statistics show that about 844 million people around the world lack access to basic drinking water service, while about 2 billion people make use of drinking water source which is contaminated with feces. Without a doubt, this drinking water source is one major transmitter of waterborne disease with diarrhea being the central symptom of all water-related diseases.

Due to weak immunity and poor hygiene, children are the greater population who are been affected by waterborne diseases. Research shows that diarrhea has been identified to be the leading cause of death of children under age five more than measles, malaria, and even HIV/AIDS combined.

Notwithstanding we are still optimistic, as experts believe we can end the global water and sanitation crisis in our lifetime

What are Water-borne Diseases?

Water-borne diseases are adverse changes in human health caused by microorganisms (pathogens) found in water. These pathogens prominently include protozoa, viruses, and bacteria.

Waterborne diseases are transmitted when one comes in contact with contaminated water either by washing, bathing, drinking water, or eating food exposed to contaminated water. It can also spread through groundwater that is contaminated with pathogens from pit latrines.

This can lead to several adverse effects on humans ranging from illnesses, diverse disabilities or disorders, or even the death of an individual.

This serves as an urgent issue in rural areas among developing countries all over the world that demands immediate attention.

Diseases Caused by Water Pollution

Some of the well-known diseases caused by water pollution include:

  • Cholera
  • Typhoid Fever
  • Escherichia Coli (E. Coli)
  • Giardia
  • Schistosomiasis
  • Hepatitis A
  • Dysentry
  • Salmonella
  • Amoebiasis

1. Cholera

Cholera is contracted through drinking contaminated water and consumption of contaminated food. It is mainly caused by bacteria named Vibrio Cholerae.

This disease is predominantly found in marginalized villages where poor hygiene, sanitation, and poverty are prevalent. The symptoms include diarrhea, muscle cramps, fever, and vomiting.  Cholera is common among children, but can also affect adults.

It can be deleterious within a few hours to a few days of exposure to the bacteria.  It possesses a mortality rate that is alarmingly high. Among water-borne diseases, cholera has the highest fatality rate.

Individuals with low immunity probably as a result of infection or malnutrition are at a high risk of death when they are exposed to these bacteria.

Vibrio Cholerae

2. Typhoid Fever

Typhoid fever is predominantly experienced in poor areas of developing nations which makes it rare in developed countries. It is caused by Salmonella typhi bacteria which are transmitted through contaminated food, poor sanitation, and unsafe water.

Immediate attention is needed to cure typhoid in the patient, as well as to prevent the spread of this contagious disease.  It’s estimated that about 20 million people worldwide suffer from the illness annually.

This disease is characterized by a gradual increase in fever, Diarrhea, loss of body mass, loss of appetite, constipation, muscle aches, and weakness.

3. Escherichia Coli (E. Coli)

This is a rod-shaped bacteria from the Enterobacteriaceae family which lives in both healthy human and animal intestines with various strains, some dangerous and some beneficial.

For example, some strains of E. coli bacteria help in the digestion of food we eat. While certain strains can cause diarrhea, fever, cramps, etc. this is transmitted by swallowing contaminated water, food, or contact with a contaminated person.

Symptoms of dangerous strains of E. coli are; severe stomach cramps, vomiting, low fever, and diarrhea.

In as much as most periods of E. coli pass within a week, older people and young children have a greater chance of developing life-threatening symptoms.

4. Giardia

This waterborne disease is shared through person-to-person contact or contaminated water, most often in ponds and streams, but it can also be found in a town’s water supply, swimming pools, etc.

The infection is caused by a parasite known as giardia mostly found in areas with poor sanitation and unsafe water. This condition can be found across the globe, according to the centers for disease control and prevention, its more prevalent in overcrowded developing countries that lack proper sanitary conditions and safe and quality water.

Giardia infection occurs in the small intestine which makes it possible for those who have been exposed to experience intestinal problems for years to come.

Symptoms include; Abdominal pain, Cramps and bloating, weight loss, headaches, vomiting, greasy stool or diarrhea, loss of appetite, and excessive gas.

5. Schistosomiasis

This is caused by infection with freshwater parasitic worms known as blood flukes.  Schistosomiasis is common in poor communities in Sub-Saharan Africa, Southeast Asia, the middle east, and the Caribbean due to a lack of access to safe drinking water and adequate sanitation.

People are infected during their regular agricultural, occupational, recreational, and domestic activities which tend to expose them to infested water through skin contact.

Transmission of this disease occurs when people suffering from Schistosomiasis contaminate freshwater sources with their excreta containing parasite eggs, which hatch in water.

It is estimated that 90% of those requiring treatment for schistosomiasis live in Africa. They usually infect people that make skin contact with the water.

Some of the symptoms include rashes, fever, chills, headache, muscle ache, joint pain, itchy skin, blood in the stool, and stomach pain, in advanced cases, individuals experience liver enlargement as a result of the accumulation of fluid in the peritoneal cavity.

In children, schistosomiasis can cause anemia, stunting, and reduced ability to learn.

6. Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is an illness that causes inflammation or swelling of the liver. This infection is caused by exposure to the virus through consuming contaminated food and water or by coming in close contact with someone who has the infection.

People who travel to developing countries often or work in rural communities with poor sanitation and hygiene management are most exposed to the disease. Hepatitis A symptoms appear a few weeks after contact with the virus.

The Symptoms include abdominal pain or discomfort,  tiredness, and weakness, dark urine, joint pain, Clay-colored bowel movements, Jaundice, Nausea and vomiting, Loss of appetite, and Sudden fever.

The infection usually goes away in a few weeks, but if not discovered and treated possibly can become severe and last several months.

Hepatitis A Virus in the Liver

7. Dysentery

This is an intestinal infection that is most often caused by shigella bacteria (shigellosis) or an amoeba. Statistics show that about 500,000 people in the United States get it every year.

This can be transmitted through contact with food prepared by a carrier or exposure to contaminated water either by drinking, swimming, or washing.

Dysentery is characterized by severe diarrhea as well as blood or mucus in the stool, feeling the need to pass stool even when the bowel is empty, abdominal pain, dehydration, nausea, and fever.

Symptoms of dysentery are expected last for 5-7 days though some people may experience symptoms for 4 weeks or more.  Dysentery is a good reason to always wash your hands, as the disease is spread mainly through poor hygiene.

8. Salmonella

Salmonella infection is caused by salmonella bacteria, which mostly occurs from ingesting food or water contaminated with feces. It tends to cause a serious life-threatening infection called typhoid fever.  Undercooked meat, egg products, unwashed fruits, and vegetables can carry the disease.

Also handling pets or animals such as lizards, snakes, etc can expose one to salmonella bacteria. Complications are not possibly developed by most people, however, children, pregnant women, older adults, and people with low immune systems are most at risk.

This infection generally runs between 4 to 7 days at this point no treatment is needed. However, in the case of severe diarrhea, you may need to rehydrate. But when the infection spreads from the intestines to the bloodstream, immediate treatment with antibiotics should be considered.

Recovery from salmonella infection may be complete for some people while some people may develop a condition called Reiter’s syndrome (Reactive arthritis) for weeks or even months.

Symptoms include Blood in stool, fever, abdominal cramps, headache, diarrhea, vomiting, and chills. These symptoms develop 12 to 72 hours after infection

9. Amoebiasis

It is caused by a parasite named Entamoeba histolytica. This disease is most common in tropical areas with untreated and unsafe water. The protozoan organism is transmitted by unknowingly consuming cysts (an inactive form of the parasite) in food, or water and this affects the intestine.

It also is transmitted by touching surfaces containing the parasite’s egg and then eating with unwashed hands. Research shows that about 50 million people around the world develop amoebiasis infection annually.

The predominant symptoms of amoebiasis include abdominal cramps, watery(loose) stools, fever, and vomiting.

How to avoid Diseases caused by Water Pollution

Lack of clean water supply, sanitation, and hygiene are major mediums through which water-borne diseases are been spread in a community. Therefore, reliable access to clean drinking water and sanitation is the main method to prevent waterborne diseases.

For over 40 years, there are many parts of the world where waterborne diseases are rampant and deadly, and knowledge on how to go about its prevention is not widely available.

Below are some ways water-borne diseases can be avoided:

1. Availability of Clean Water Supply

Reliable access to clean drinking water and sanitation is the main method to prevent waterborne diseases.  The aim is to break the fecal-oral route of disease transmission.

Government and community leaders of local communities should do their possible best to ensure that the pollution is provided with clean and safe water which can be accessed by the locals. This will go a long way to addressing the issue of water-related diseases.

2. Proper Sanitation and Hygiene

This entails all human activities which introduce waste and harmful substances to the surface or underground water. This can be waste from the human body (feces, urine, and other fluids), domestic, industrial, commercial and agricultural have been over time seen to be introduced to water bodies.

That when the human population are been exposed to these bodies it leads to a high risk of waterborne diseases. Therefore, the need to keep our environment clean and properly dispose of our waste is promulgated.

Not only that personal hygiene is paramount to our health.  We should make sure we wash our hands properly with clean water before eating, wash fruits and vegetables properly before consumption, cover our food properly, only completely cooked food should be eaten, and try as much as possible to drink safe and clean water.

In a situation where you sense the water has been polluted and that’s the only available water for consumption, you can boil the water allow it cool and drink it.

3. Vaccination

Vaccination is a common and effective means of preventing these diseases as it is said: “prevention is better than cure”. Hence, vaccines are been recommended for people who are traveling in areas where poor sanitation and unsafe water are common.

The vaccine can be injected through a shot or taken orally for several days. For all diseases, vaccination is the best way for preventing them.

But in the case of affected individuals’ antibacterial, antiviral or anti-parasitic drugs can be used for the treatment depending on the nature of the disease.

4. Medical Campaigns and Sensitization

Governments, Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), Medical agencies even individuals living in countries with or without high incidences of water-borne diseases should often run health check-ups and awareness campaigns.

This is to educate and sensitize the communities about the risks and common precautions to be taken for its avoidance. The campaigns should always gear towards the need for personal hygiene and proper sanitation of individuals and the environment at large.


If every person on the planet was able to practice safe sanitation and hygiene and have access to clean water, these diseases would not exist.

Governments, NGOs, and communities themselves have made great strides in the past 20 years to end waterborne diseases. However, there is much to be done to curb the occurrence of these diseases.

So everyone should be proactive to address the issue of water pollution and contamination in the environment as this is the major cause of water-borne diseases.

What is the most common water-borne disease?

Diarrhea is the most prevalent water-borne disease having most of its victims being children under the age of five. This disease can last up to two weeks but can be fatal to those in developing countries.

What water-borne disease kills faster?

Cholera is a critical water-borne disease that kills even within hours. It is known as acute diarrhea.


Environmental Consultant at Environment Go! | + posts

Ahamefula Ascension is a Real Estate Consultant, Data Analyst, and Content writer. He is the founder of Hope Ablaze Foundation and a Graduate of Environmental Management in one of the prestigious colleges in the country. He is obsessed with Reading, Research and Writing.

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