15 most common waterborne diseases and how to prevent them

15 most common waterborne diseases and how to prevent them

Hey hi, are you concerned about the drinking water? So we are. Still waterborne diseases are very common. Still the majority population in the world do not have access to safe drinking water. Here we will discuss the most common waterborne diseases. Here we will discuss their manifestations and prevention so that it will be valuable for you to protect yourself from these water borne diseases.

What are waterborne diseases?

Waterborne diseases are essentially infectious diseases in which the pathogen is spread by water. Here pathogen is a disease causing agent.This disease causing agent can be a parasite, a bacterium, a virus or fungus. 

You get waterborne diseases while drinking, washing, bathing or eating contaminated food. So daily routine activities which are seemingly harmless can give you an unwanted disease.

Most of these disease causing agents also known as pathogens are invisible to naked eye. The water may look clean and taste good but may be contaminated by these little fellas. You may consume them unknowingly.

What are modes of spread of waterborne diseases?

As we have discussed above the waterborne diseases can spread through drinking, washing and bathing and eating contaminated food, let us discuss each of these modes.

Drinking water

Drinking water. 15 most common waterborne diseases and how to prevent them
Drinking water

You and everyone drink at least 2-4 litres of water daily. No one can survive without water more than a few days. Every few hours we need to drink to survive.

Most of us staying in cities and even rural areas are supplied piped water. Still the majority of the world population has no access to tap water. They need to bring water from the nearest source or reservoir of water.

Contaminated drinking water is water carrying the pathogenic organism. The poor population usually do not have access to proper sanitation facilities. In such areas literally the contaminated water is mixed with the drinking water.

After consuming such water people may get diseases like vomiting and diarrhea which may be deadly also. Some other diseases typhoid, and hepatitis also spread by this route.


Bathing. 15 most common waterborne diseases and how to prevent them.

If you are using contaminated water for bathing purposes it may harm you. While bathing such water may get into your mouth and cause a similar effect as drinking water.

If not you small children may drink water while bathing and they may suffer the consequences unknowingly. Usually children are affected more severely by this problem. 

Contaminated bathing water may cause infection to your skin, Infection to your respiratory tract and also infection to your gastrointestinal tract. Thus bathing with contaminated water may be harmful.

Contaminated water getting access to your open wounds may affect those wounds and it later on may trouble you causing pus in your wounds.


15 most common waterborne diseases and how to prevent them

This is another unique way of infecting people with a pathogenic agent that spreads by water. 

If you are using contaminated water for washing utensils used to cook the food or if you are using contaminated water to wash your cloth you are likely to get affected.

It produces immediate harm to the person who is washing. Later on it impacts the persons who are using such utensils to eat their food.

Contaminated food

15 most common waterborne diseases and how to prevent them
Contaminated food

The pathogenic agents in contaminated water may enter in food too. If the food is not prepared with proper hygiene and care this is the end result.

Do you have a habit of eating roadside food or food in dirty roadside hotels? Be careful you are on the hit list and within the target range of waterborne diseases.

Saving on food and comprising quality and cleanliness of eateries may cost you much more if you get such a disease and also the suffering that you will experience cannot be compensated by the cost.

List of waterborne diseases

We will first list out the waterborne diseases that you may get most likely if you drink contaminated water. Please note the term waterborne diseases is applied to the infectious diseases spread by contaminated water. This does not include diseases caused by consumption of polluted water containing pollutants.

So these waterborne diseases are classified as 

  • Bacterial diseases
  • Parasitic worms
  • Protozoal diseases
  • Viral diseases
  • Diseases caused by algae.
Bacterial diseasesTyphoid or Enteric feverCholeraTraveler’s diarrheaE. coli infectionShigella dysentery infectionLeptospirosis
Viral diseasesHepatitis A diseaseHepatitis E diseaseRotavirus diarrheaNorovirus diarrheaPolio
Protozoal diseasesAmoebiasisGiardiasisCryptosporidiosisCyclosporiasisNaegleriasisAcanthamoeba keratitis
Parasitic wormsDracunculiasis
List of common waterborne disease

Most waterborne diseases have become rare from the developed world where people have access to safe drinking water. Still in the developing world where most of the human population resides does not have safe drinking water. Here waterborne diseases are commonplace. The mortality and morbidity caused by waterborne diseases is still a common and major health concern.

Now we will discuss the diseases in list one by one so that you will feel it is interesting and you will gain some knowledge.

Bacterial diseases

As the heading suggests these are diseases caused by bacteria and spread by the water. The mode of spread can be one of the above we discussed earlier.

Typhoid or enteric fever

Typhoid or enteric fever is still a very major concern in the developing world in Asia and Africa. It is caused by Salmonella typhi and paratyphi.

It is caused by drinking contaminated water and also eating food contaminated with bacteria. People may carry these bacteria chronically without symptoms spreading the disease.

The symptoms are mild to high grade fever with loose motion or constipation and vomiting with loss of appetite. Left untreated it may cause death in 2-4 weeks. Many people die even after treatment as resistance is seen.

This is vaccine preventable disease and also can be prevented by hand and food hygiene we have discussed in further sections. You can read about details of symptoms and treatments in our dedicated blogpost on typhoid fever.


Many of you may be already knowing about cholera. Cholera is caused by Vibrio cholerae. It spreads by contaminated drinking water.

In the last centuries Cholera had caused many pandemics causing deaths of millions of childrens and adults alike. It still continues to be a major health concern in third world countries where access to safe drinking water is not available. 

If you drink water contaminated with Vibrio cholerae you may get this disease.

The symptoms are profuse watery diarrhea described as rice watery stool. It may be associated with profuse vomiting too.

The amount of water in stool is so large that in a few hours children and adults get severely dehydrated and they may lose life if not treated immediately. 

As usually the source of water is safe for a population in an area many cases occur at the same time in the given population. It may collapse the available medical facilities with so many cases.

Travelers diarrhea

This is usually caused by infections with E. coli strains and also some other bacterias. It may affect travelers and the local population alike.

The symptoms are loose motions and abdominal cramps may be with vomiting. It is caused by consumption of contaminated water especially in hilly regions.

E. coli infection

Another most common cause of waterborne diseases is E. coli infection. This may occur after drinking contaminated water or food.

The symptoms are loose motion and abdominal cramps may be associated with vomiting. It may cause dysentery that is blood in stool.

Other complications like Hemolytic uremic syndrome are known to occur after E. coli infection.

Shigella dysentery

Dysentery is the presence of blood in stool. Shigella produces a type of toxin that injure the inner layer of the intestine and it may bleed.

This blood may appear in stools visibly with loose motion is called dysentery. It is caused by drinking contaminated water or eating contaminated food.

This condition may also cause pain while passing stool in some patients.


This is a deadly disease caused by Leptospirae. 

It is very commonly found in the rainy season where monsoon rain occurs torrentially in a short period of time and there is accumulation of water.

The population in this region may have to walk through contaminated water. Leptospirae is excreted in contaminated water by rats through urine.

If you have got injury to your legs or other body parts and that is exposed to the contaminated water these microorganisms can enter the wound and get access to your body.

It mainly harms your liver causing symptoms like Hepatitis. In extreme cases may cause liver failure and death.

Viral diseases

Like bacteria we discussed above viruses can infect you through the contaminated water. Here we discuss most common viral diseases caused by contaminated water.

Hepatitis A disease

Hepatitis A disease is caused by Hepatitis A virus. It occurs through contaminated water.

Like any other Hepatitis symptoms are vomiting, jaundice, abdominal pain and loose motions. It is the most common cause of liver failure. Hepatitis A is the most common cause needing liver transplant.

This infection is spread by contaminated water and a virus is excreted by the infected person in stool that contaminates the drinking water. 

It is vaccine preventable disease and also preventable by following food hygiene and hand washing habits.

Hepatitis E disease

This is caused and spread by contaminated water like Hepatitis A disease. 

The symptoms are similar to Hepatitis A disease. It can be more deadly if it infects pregnant women.

Currently there is no vaccine to prevent this disease. It can be only prevented by the food hygiene and hand washing frequently.

Rotavirus diarrhea

This usually severely affects infants and children less than 2 years old. 

It may or may not be spread by contaminated water. It is one of the most causes of diarrhea in children less than 2 years old.

Rotavirus diarrhea can be severe in nature and may cause severe dehydration and may cause death in this age group children.


This virus is spread by contaminated water. It can cause profuse watery diarrhea in children and sometimes adults. It may be associated with abdominal pain and vomiting.

Protozoal diseases

Following waterborne diseases are caused by protozoans as we discussed here. We are going to discuss the most common amongst them.


Amoebiasis is a disease caused by infection of protozoans amoeba. Amoeba are found in contaminated water.

So you may get this infection when you drink contaminated water or you eat contaminated food. Amoeba infects the intestine causing injury to the inner layer of the intestine.

Symptoms are diarrhea, dysentery, blood in stool, pain while passing stool and abdominal pain. It can infect your liver causing liver abscess leading to jaundice.


Giardia is the protozoan that can cause giardiasis. You can get this infection from contaminated water and food.

It stays on the inner layer of the intestine. It can stay there for a long period of time. This can cause chronic diarrhea.

If not treated prolonged diarrhea caused by this infection may cause malnutrition. Usually this infection more commonly affects malnourished children and it may itself aggravate malnutrition.

These are excreted by infected people in stool and can further contaminate the water and food.


These protozoans usually are found in water.

They may infect you when you have gone swimming. The water can come in contact with nasal mucosa and infect it.

Entering in a blood stream there reaches the brain. In the brain it may form abscess and this abscess can cause a variety of symptoms and can be deadly. Even with treatment death caused after brain abscess occurs in 60 percent patients.

Acanthamoeba keratitis

Acanthamoeba is a protozoa like amoeba. It is found in water.

If this contaminated water gets access to your eyes it can infect the mucosa of conjunctiva and cornea. 

It literally eats out the cornea and causes severe damage to the eye causing blindness. The affected person may need to be treated with corneal transplant.

Parasitic worms


This disease is nearly extinct from many countries. It is still found in extremely poor countries in Africa. The female parasite releases larvae in water and that can infect open wounds.

After gaining entry to the bloodstream those undergo moulding and transform into adults to stay under skin.

Symptoms are itching, rash, blisters, diarrhea, vomiting and dizziness.

So above was the short description of diseases caused by the waterborne infections. We further see how to prevent those waterborne diseases. If you want to read about each disease individually in detail visit our other posts about those diseases. Stay tuned.

How to prevent waterborne diseases?

As you all know nowadays that prevention is always better than cure. When there is actual disease and you have to suffer the ill effects with loss of work days and additionally costly treatments too. It makes sense in preventing these diseases.

There are different strategies to prevent waterborne diseases. We will list those strategies first and then we will explain each one in detail.

Measures at individual level

  • Safe drinking water.
  • Hand hygiene.
  • Food hygiene.
  • Avoid accumulated water.
  • Avoid walking or swimming in contaminated water
  • Vaccines.
  • Early primary treatment.
  • Seeking medical advice.

Measures at community level

  • Access to safe drinking water for all.
  • Access to well maintained toilets at public places.
  • Educating children in school.
  • Use of media.
  • Providing treatment and preventive medicines to the affected.

Measures to be taken at individual level to prevent waterborne diseases

As we know prevention is better than cure and health if we ourselves can enjoy life. It is the responsibility of each of us individually to follow the habits that help us to maintain our good health. Here we will discuss measures we can take for ourselves to protect us from waterborne diseases.

Though individual diseases can involve special measures, these are some common steps that will protect you from waterborne diseases.

Safe drinking water

We should always see that we get drinking water that is clean and suitable for drinking. At many places the government fails to provide even basic clean drinking water.

Safe drinking water. 15 most common waterborne diseases and how to prevent them
Safe drinking water

If unfortunately you are staying in such an area then it’s on you to protect yourself. There are many methods by which you can get rid of disease causing contamination.


Boiling the water for a good 10 minutes kills the contaminating microorganism in the water. Simple process of boiling water makes it safe enough to drink given it is boiled and kept boiling for at least 10 minutes. This process is available when you are residing in area but when you are traveling it may not be possible to use this procedure.


Now a days technology has developed for the good and you can filter the water which you are going to use for consumption. Filtration removes many contaminating bacteria though viruses being very small may pass the filters too. If needed technologies like reverse osmosis may be used.


This efficient method of killing the contaminants in the water. It is also a cheaper method and used as recommended does not change the taste of the water.

Bottled water:

Above methods may not be available or convenient when you are traveling and especially when you are travelling in an unknown region. In such case bottled mineral water is safe to drink though may slightly cost more.

One or more steps to purify water suggested if used you may be saved from waterborne diseases. 

Hand hygiene

Hand hygiene is an important strategy for everyone which provides protection against infectious diseases. Hands should be washed after use of toilets and before having food. If you are going to cook food you should wash your hand before cooking. For hand washing simple soap and water can be used. If soap and water is not available as may be a case when you are traveling you should have hand rub sanitiser with you.

Hand hygiene. 15 most common waterborne diseases and how to prevent them
Hand hygiene.

Food hygiene

This is very important as contaminated food is the most common cause of waterborne diseases. Contaminated food which is available at roadside at low cost seems attractive. It may be contaminated as these places are unhygienic. Avoid eating at such places is the best practice.

Always remember to have food at a clean place and eat fresh hot food, especially when you are travelling. Avoid items like sandwiches and chutneys and icecreams. Chinese rice which may not be freshly cooked may cause you food poisoning.

Accumulate water

Drinking water from a pond or open well is a dangerous habit while traveling. Accumulated water is best for the contaminating microorganisms. It may give you waterborne diseases. Even flowing water can be dangerous in that case.

Avoid walking or swimming in contaminated water

Diseases like leptospirosis and naegleriasis or acanthamoeba keratitis can occur when you are exposed to accumulated water which is contaminated. You may unknowingly walk or sim in such water and your minor wounds may get exposed to such contaminated water. Avoiding such water is the best way to protect yourself from these diseases.


Currently vaccines are available to prevent traveler diarrhea and typhoid or enteric fever and cholera. Some of these vaccines are oral and some are injectable. If you are residing in a place where there is no access to safe to safe water you should take these vaccines. Additionally if you are going to travel to endemic areas for these waterborne diseases you should take these vaccines beforehand.

For further information you can whatsap us or meet us at Bhole Children Clinic.


If you cannot avoid exposure to the water which is accumulated and likely to be contaminated and you are staying in an area with known risk of leptospirosis disease you should start prophylactic medicine.

Some prophylactic medicines like doxycycline are used for this purpose. It should be taken after medical advice.

Early primary treatment

Even after following these steps if unfortunately you get infected you should start primary treatment. If you are getting symptoms of waterborne diseases like diarrhea and vomiting you should start drinking ORS. There is no harm starting ORS on your own when you have loose motion or vomiting.

Seeking medical advice

After starting primary treatment you should seek medical advice as it can help you to reduce your suffering early. You should start primary treatment by your own but should seek medical advice for further guidance.

Measures at community level

With steps taken for individual level it is beneficial to work on community level too for the larger interest of the community. Treating a community is as important as treating an individual. Following are the measures that can be taken by government and non government organizations.

Access to safe drinking water for all

Drinking water should be available for all poor or rich equally. It should be accessible to all and free of cost. It should be piped water preferably tap available at each household. In developed countries it may be available to all but still in developing third world nations it’s a distant dream. Government and community should work together to make it possible.

Access to well maintained toilets and sanitation

Toilets and sanitation facilities should be available to all. Open defecation should be highly discouraged. Non availability of toilets and sanitation is the main cause of water getting contaminated with infectious disease causing agents. 

Governments should make such facilities at public places and it should be well maintained so that people can use it.

Educating children in the schools

In third world countries schools still lack basic sanitation facilities and toilets. Such sanitation facilities should be made available in the schools and children should be encouraged to use them when needed.

Children should be taught basic hand and food hygiene in schools as their parents being uneducated may not know that. Children taught and disciplined in school helps to shape the future of the countries.

Use of media

Media should be used by the government to educate people about hygiene. They should teach people how diseases are spread and ways to prevent them.

Media can play a major role indeed to change entire communities for the better. Use of toilets should be promoted and open defecation should be highly discouraged.

Providing treatment and medicines to the affected

When waterborne diseases occur they usually infect many people at the same time. Literally all people in the family or a locality may be suffering. In such a case treatment and medical facility should be provided to all to be effective.

Additionally, the source of infection should be found out. Source of infection is usually traceable by the history of food and drinking. If needed samples should be taken to examine the source or reservoir of the infection and it should be eliminated.

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