Definition of Waterborne bacterial disease

Waterborne bacterial disease: An illness due to infection with bacteria contaminating the water supply.

Waterborne bacterial diseases cause a wide range of syndromes including: acute dehydrating diarrhea (cholera), prolonged febrile illness with abdominal symptoms (typhoid fever), acute bloody diarrhea (dysentery), and chronic diarrhea (Brainerd diarrhea). Common agents causing waterborne diseases include the following bacteria:

  • Vibrio cholerae,
  • Campylobacter,
  • Salmonella,
  • Shigella and
  • Escherichia coli (E. coli).

Waterborne bacterial infections account for 2-3 billion episodes of diarrhea resulting in 1-2 million deaths a year. The deaths tend to be of infants and young children from dehydration, malnutrition, and other complications of waterborne bacterial infections. At high risk are the two billion people living in poverty in the developing world. Some people in the US (in periurban "colonias" and remote rural areas with poor water treatment and delivery systems) are also at risk.

Contaminated surface water sources and large poorly functioning municipal water distribution systems contribute to transmission of waterborne bacterial diseases. Chlorination and safe water handling can eliminate the risk of waterborne bacterial diseases. But centralized water treatment and distribution systems are expensive and take years to complete.

To provide people with potable (safe drinkable) water in the short term requires innovative practical solutions such as point-of-use disinfection and safe water storage vessels. Electrolytic generators that produce sodium hypochlorite from salt water are now affordable and available for use in the developing world. Villages that produce and use sodium hypochlorite and store treated water in vessels to protect it from recontamination have had nearly 50% reductions in diarrheal disease incidence for pennies per family.

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