From Exposure to Illness: Waterborne Disease

  • Cholera infection caused by toxin-producing bacteria Vibrio cholerae O1 or O139 produces highly variable symptoms, marked by diarrhea and/or vomiting.
  • In 1993, Cryptosporidium was responsible for the largest documented US waterborne disease outbreak since formal surveillance and reporting began. Chlorine-resistant and commonly carried and shed in cattle feces, agricultural regions and storm water runoff are key variables for increased exposure risks.
  • Another common waterborne contaminant is norovirus, a highly contagious organism, easily spread by infected humans, with a short incubation period of 15 to 50 hours. The onset of symptoms, which includes nausea, vomiting, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, fever, myalgia and headache, is typically rapid with the illness
  • Rotavirus is a common cause of enteric infections resulting in watery diarrhea, vomiting and fever, but typically in children between the ages of six months to two years.
  • Enteropathogenic (EPEC) E. coli is thought to be the main cause of persistent diarrhea and a leading cause of death, worldwide.

7 Most Common Waterborne Disease in the world.

Waterborne diseases has been afflicting hundreds of millions of people, primarily those living without safe, accessible water in developing countries.

Of the 7 most common waterborne diseases in the world, diarrhea is the central symptom. The latest research shows that diarrhea is the second leading cause of death for children under the age of five, causing more childhood deaths than malaria, AIDS, and measles combined.

What is Waterborne Disease?
They are illnesses caused by microscopic organisms, like viruses and bacteria, that are ingested through contaminated water or by coming in contact with feces. 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.

1. Typhoid Fever

Typhoid fever is well-known in extremely poor parts of developing nations; it’s estimated that up to 20 million people worldwide suffer from the illness each year. It’s spread through contaminated food, unsafe water, and poor sanitation, and it is highly contagious.


  • A fever that increases gradually
  • Muscle aches
  • Fatigue
  • Sweating
  • Diarrhea or constipation

2. Cholera

Cholera disease is spread through contaminated water and causes severe dehydration and diarrhea. It can be fatal within days or even hours of exposure to the bacteria, but only 1 in 10 people will develop life-threatening symptoms.


  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Muscle cramps

3. Giardia

This waterborne disease is shared through contaminated water, most often in ponds and streams, but it can also be found in a town’s water supply, swimming pools, and more. The infection is caused by a parasite. However, it’s possible for those who have been exposed will experience intestinal problems for years to come.


  • Abdominal pain
  • Cramps and bloating
  • Diarrhea
  • Nausea
  • Weight loss

4. Dysentry, or Bloody stool

An intestinal infection, dysentery is a waterborne disease characterized by severe diarrhea as well as blood or mucus in the stool. Dysentery is good reason to always wash your hands, as the disease is spread mainly through poor hygiene. It can be caused by bacteria, viruses, or parasites in unsafe food and water and by people coming in contact with fecal matter. 


  • Stomach cramps and pain
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Dehydration

5. Escheria Coli, or E.Coli

Animal waste has found its way into farmland where produce is grown or if strains of E. coli are spread through the process of making ground beef, those who consume these foods could experience symptoms of the waterborne illness. The bacteria is also found in unsafe water sources around the globe where human water sources and cattle coexist.

Symptoms of dangerous strains of E. coli are similar to that of dysentery and other waterborne diseases. 

6. Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A is a liver infection caused by consuming contaminated food and water or by coming in close contact with someone who has the infection. People who travel in developing countries often or work in rural communities with poor sanitation and hygiene management are most exposed to the disease.


  • Fatigue
  • Clay-colored bowel movements
  • Jaundice
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Abdominal pain, especially near your liver
  • Loss of appetite
  • Sudden fever

7. Salmonella

Most cases of salmonella come from ingesting food or water contaminated with feces. Undercooked meat, egg products, fruits, and vegetables can also carry the disease. Most people don’t develop complications, but children, pregnant women, older adults, and people with weakened immune systems are most at risk.


  • Blood in stool
  • Chills
  • Headache
  • Diarrhea


  1.  CDC. National Notifiable Diseases. Waterborne Disease and Outbreak Reportinghttps://www.cdc.gov/healthywater/surveillance/nndss.html. Published 2019. Accessed December 8, 2019.
  2. Benedict KM, Reses H, Vigar M, et al. Surveillance for Waterborne Disease Outbreaks Associated with Drinking Water—United States, 2013–2014. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2017;66(44):1216-1221. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6644a3
  3. Reynolds KA, Mena KD, Gerba CP. Risk of waterborne illness via drinking water in the United States. Rev Environ Contam Toxicol. 2008;192:117-158. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18020305. Accessed June 19, 2018.