"Waterborne illness" describes illnesses that are spread when people swallow or have contact with water that is not clean (unsanitary). Swallowing or breathing in mists or sprays of unsanitary water from drinking water systems, swimming pools, water parks, hot tubs, water play areas, fountains, lakes, rivers, or oceans can make you sick. A person can also get a waterborne illness by eating or drinking food or beverages that have been spoiled from contact with animals or their environment, or through other ill persons.
Swimmers can be the cause of a waterborne illness if they defecate in the water or if stool washes off their bodies. Lakes, rivers, streams and the ocean can also become polluted with germs from waste water spills, animal waste, and water runoff after rainfall.
Waterborne illnesses can cause many different symptoms. Diarrhea and vomiting are the most common symptoms, while skin, eye, ear, respiratory, and nervous system problems may also occur. People with weakened immune systems are at a higher risk of getting more severe forms of waterborne illness.
Waterborne illnesses can be caused by many different germs and toxins. Some of these are reportable (doctors and others need to notify public health authorities about the illness so that others can be protected).
The germs and toxins that cause these illnesses can be broken down by those that mainly cause diarrhea:
And those that cause other symptoms:
- Harmful Algal Blooms (HABs)
- Legionella (Legionnaires’ disease or Pontiac fever)
- Naegleria fowleri and Primary Amebic Meningoencephalitis