Watch your water

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By Dr Khushboo Shah Sawant

With the arriving monsoons it becomes very essential to be aware of the importance of water, along with the diseases that can be caused through water. Diseases caused due to consumption of contaminated water are known as water borne diseases. They are extremely prevalent especially during monsoons, where there may be chances of water logging, mixing of contaminated water with clean water, or simply contamination of open water bodies like lakes, ponds or rivers.

Consumption of water contaminated by human or animal excreta, waste matters which contain pathogenic microorganism’s causes water borne diseases. Flood water can carry along with it, while open sewage, human and animal faeces, chemical wastes, or any other form of dead or decaying matter can also give rise to diseases like diarrhea. Infectious diseases caused by bacteria, viruses and protozoa are the most common and wide spread health risks associated with drinking water. In a country like ours, a major chunk of diseases are caused due to water borne microorganisms. Children specially are most susceptible to them, giving rise to water borne diseases being one of the leading causes of childhood deaths and more so with diarrhea.

Waterborne diseases are contagious and require high standards of hygiene and sanitation in order to prevent it. However, it is essential to know first how the infection takes place. The micro-organisms present in human or animal waste enter into a healthy human body and cause disease. The most common way by which the micro-organisms are spread is through drinking contaminated water. However apart from that, water borne diseases can be spread through various other means such as, through clothes, hands, food, materials used for cooking eating and drinking. There are also some micro-organisms that can enter the body through an open wound, eyes, and nose as well.

Water borne diseases are extremely harmful and lead to some severe illnesses and may sometimes be fatal. They reduce the body’s resistance and also rip off various vital nourishment, and make the body furthermore susceptible to diseases. Therefore it is important to be aware of a few common waterborne diseases:

Amoebiasis: It is a parasitic infection caused by ‘entamoeba histolytica’ due to ingestion of faecal matter of an infected person, usually from an infected water supply source. It causes severe diarrhea, stomach pain along with cramping.

Cholera: Caused due to the ‘vibrio cholera’ bacteria is an epidemic whose outbreak is caused by contaminated drinking water. The symptoms of cholera are severe watery stool, vomiting, and cramps in the legs. Dehydration occurs in the people affected and can even lead to death.

E Coli: is caused by a bacteria ‘Escherichia coli’ that festers in undercooked beef or other meat cooked in unhygienic conditions, unpasteurized milk etc. An E Coli infected person may have symptoms such as diarrhea which may even have blood in it along with abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and fever.

Giardiasis: The causative organism is a parasite ‘Giardia lamblia’ and is present mostly in contaminated water. The symptoms are diarrhea, abdominal pain, excessive gas formation in the stomach, nausea and an overall upset feeling of the stomach.

Hepatitis A: commonly known as Jaundice, it is a viral infection caused due to food prepared in unhygienic conditions, contaminated water, shell-fish, raw salads and vegetables which have not been cleaned properly. The symptoms are dull low fever, fatigue, weakness, pain in stomach, nausea, aversion to food, dark yellow coloured urine, yellow discoloration of the skin and mucous membranes etc.

Typhoid: Caused by a bacteria ‘Salmonella Typhi’ happens mainly through consumption of contaminated milk or milk products, poultry, eggs, meat, meat products etc. Symptoms of typhoid include consistent fever, headache, constipation as well as diarrhea, vomiting loss of appetite, and an abdominal rash.

Viral Gastroenteritis: by far one of the most common water borne disease and caused by ‘calicivirus virus’. A viral gastroenteritis is caused typically after consumption of contaminated water or food prepared in contaminated water, eating raw fruits or vegetables which have not been washed etc. The symptoms are diarrhea, vomiting nausea, headache, body ache, cramps in the stomach, tiredness, fever etc.

The common symptoms that run through most of the water borne diseases are diarrhea and vomiting which happens to be the main reasons of children death. The main risk in diarrhea or vomiting is dehydration, which means the loss of vital fluid content of the body hindering its normal functioning. It is very important to watch out for the signs of dehydration, which are extreme or continuous thirst, reduced frequency of urination than normal, the colour of the urine becoming dark yellow, inability to sweat, fatigue, dryness of the mucous membranes around the lips, eyes etc, loss of moisture in the skin, light headedness etc. By the time these signs develop, the dehydration may be advanced and so it is very important to replenish the lost fluids and essential salts called as electrolytes.

All said and done, there is a simple solution for water borne diseases: prevention. Taking simple hygienic and sanitary preventive measures can help avoid the same. Drinking water that is boiled, cooled, stored in hygienic vessels which are washed and cleaned daily; washing our hands every time before and after a meal and after defaecation with a clean soap; eating food that is freshly cooked; cooking food at a high temperature so that all the pathogens are killed; avoiding eating stale food or food that has been stored for a long time; ensuring meat is well cooked; covering yet to be consumed food with a lid to avoid pest infestation; avoiding eating raw vegetables or fruits without washing them properly; avoiding eating or drinking food from roadside vendors; using proper toilets for defaecation; washing hands and feet each time after coming from outside; keeping nails clipped and clean; avoiding bathing or washing clothes in open stagnant water etc are some easy ways of prevention. However, if a person ex
periences any of the above mentioned symptoms even after taking all precautionary measures, he must visit the doctor immediately for further treatment.

 

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