By Vivian Onyebukwa

According to reports, the issue of waterborne diseases remains a major global public health issue and a great environmental concern, especially in developing countries.

Water, according to Dr Gertrude Bassey, a public health practitioner, is a colourless, transparent, odourless, tasteless liquid that forms the seas, lakes, rivers and the rain, and the basis of the fluids of living organisms.

Dr Bassey said waterborne diseases are illnesses caused by microscopic organisms, like viruses and bacteria, that are ingested through contaminated water or by coming in contact with faeces. “If every person on the planet was able to practise safe sanitation and hygiene and have access to clean water, these diseases would not exist.”

She mentioned the most common causes of water borne diseases to include virus, bacteria, fungi and parasites. She added that infectious diseases usually spread from person to person, through contaminated food or water and through bug bites. “Some infectious diseases are minor and some are very serious,” she revealed.

Highlighting some common types of waterborne diseases, she mentioned diarrhoea, giardiasis, dysentery, typhoid fever, E. Coli infection, cholera and salmonellosis. Others she said, are Cryptosporidiosi (Cryptosporidium), Cyclosporiasis (Cyclospora spp), Escherichia coli 0157:H7 Infection (E. Giardiasis (Giardia), Harmful Agal Blooms (HABs), Hot Tub Rash (Pseudomonas Dermatitis/Folliculitis), and Legionellosis (Legionella) .

How disease can be contacted

Many would wonder, how can these waterborne diseases be contacted? Hear her: “Contaminated water and poor sanitation are linked to transmission of diseases such as cholera, diarrhoea, dysentery, hepatitis A, typhoid, and polio. Absent, inadequate, or inappropriately managed water and sanitation services expose individuals to preventable health risks. Lack of clean drinking water, poor sanitisation, lack of personal hygiene, hand hygiene, and lack of awareness, are also the problem.”

Dr Bassey further pointed out that there are some other common water-related illnesses. They include diarrhoea, giardiasis, dysentery, typhoid fever, E.Coli infection, and salmonellosis. “Adverse health effects can include pain in the gastrointestinal, reproductive, neurological systems, and other symptoms. Continuous exposure can have long-lasting health impacts.”

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Dr Bassey said  there are varieties of symptoms of waterborne diseases. “While diarrhoea and vomiting are the most reported symptoms of waterborne illness, other symptoms can include skin, ear, respiratory, or eye problems, as well as abdominal pains.”

How to prevent waterborne diseases

So how can waterborne diseases be prevented? She replied: “There’re four types of disease prevention. These preventive stages are primordial prevention, primary prevention, secondary prevention, and tertiary prevention. Combined, these strategies not only aim to prevent the onset of diseases through risk reduction, but also downstream complications of a manifested disease,” Bassey said.

Tips to prevent waterborne disease

She further gave out simple tips on how two prevent waterborne diseases. “Ensure that water is boiled and stored in a clean and covered container before consuming. Practise hand personal hygiene by washing your hands frequently with soap under clean running water. Use alcohol-bases hand sanitizer if soap and clean water are not available. Ensure that food is well cooked before consumption,” she said.

Other tips

She also gave more tips. Her words: “Handle and prepare food safely. Food can carry germs. Wash hands often, clean and disinfect commonly used surfaces, cough and sneeze into a tissue or your sleeve, don’t share personal items, get vaccinated, avoid touching wild animals, and stay home when sick.”

While advising that Oral Rehydration Salt (ORT) could be used as early treatment, she equally demonstrated how to prepare ORS, and safe hand washing.

“If ORS packets are not available, mix an oral rehydration solution using one of the following recipes, depending on the ingredients and container availability”.

In her words, the recipe for making a one-litre ORS solution using sugar, salt and water include clean water, a sugar-level teaspoon, and salt-half level teaspoon. Stir the mixture till the sugar dissolves.”

According Dr Bassey, the homemade solution is adequate in most cases. “If the diarrhoea is severe, ask your chemist for a special pack of Oral Rehydration Salts. Follow the instructions on the packet carefully. Drink sips of the ORS, (or give the ORS solution to the conscious dehydrated person) every five minutes until urination becomes normal. (It’s normal to urinate four or five times a day).

“Adults and large children should drink at least three quarters or litres of ORS a day until they are well. If you are vomiting, continue to try to drink the ORS. Your body will retain some of the fluids and salts you need even though you are vomiting. Remember to take sips of liquid slowly.

“Chilling the ORS may help. If you have diarrhoea, continue to drink the ORS. The fluids will not increase the diarrhoea. Someone with symptoms of severe dehydration needs to go to an emergency room or other health care facility to get intravenous. (fluids given directly into the veins through a needle) if possible. If able to drink, he or she should drink the ORS.”

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