Preventing Waterborne Illness and Disease: How You Can Help


This last summer, there were a few days of panic when a healthy young woman who had recently gone through a whitewater adventure experience returned home with a brain-eating amoeba. She was one of four cases of the infection, caused by Naegleria fowleri, in the United States in 2016. While most people in the United States aren’t very worried about waterborne illnesses, they are common in many other countries and have historically been a leading cause of death before sanitation and plumbing.

Preventing waterborne illness and disease is important, even for those living in developed countries.

Who Is At Risk of Contracting a Waterborne Illness or Disease?

It’s frightening to say, but just about every person risks contracting a waterborne illness at some point in their life. Whether it’s the result of drinking unpurified water, swimming in a lake contaminated by bacteria or a virus, or contracted at a public water facility like a pool, there are many ways people can contract a waterborne illness or disease. Those who regularly bathe or swim in untreated water and those who drink from unpurified water sources may be at increased risk when compared to the general population. The more you engage in water activities, the more aware of risks you should be.

Even City Water Can Carry Disease

In the developed world, we often take for granted that certain things we encounter on a daily basis are inherently safe. Municipal drinking water is a perfect example. It can take weeks or months for contamination to have enough of an impact on a population for it to be detected and addressed. One only has to look at the lead crisis with the water supply in Flint, Michigan to see how easily quality standard can slip and significant populations of people can be put at risk, simple by drinking the water in their tap. While lead isn’t a disease, failure to detect either can negatively impact the community consuming the contaminated water.

Water Related Diseases Are Incredibly Common Worldwide

Particularly in countries with low household income levels, high rates of poverty, and poor infrastructure, water related diseases are still very common. In fact, over 6,000 children under the age of eighteen die around the world every single day from waterborne diseases. Children are particularly susceptible to the diarrhea that comes with many waterborne illnesses. The dehydration and malnutrition it causes, along with its suppressive effect on the body’s ability to fight additional infections, can often be fatal.

Access to Clean Water Should Be a Human Right

It’s tragic to think that while we spend gallons of potable, drinkable water on ornamental gardens and massive, green lawns of grass, children around the world are dying for want of clean water. Of course, potable water here in the United States will do little to help a child in rural Peru, but awareness can do a lot to change the world. Once you understand how critical it is for people to combat waterborne illnesses, you can do your part to educate those around you and to support organizations that focus on water-related medical issues, especially those that impact children. Donate money or your time and make a difference.

Traditional Water Filtration Has Limits

Safely purifying water isn’t easy. Many chemical treatments leave an unpleasant taste or undesirable amounts of chemicals behind in the water. Physical pumps used to clean water have limitations; they can only screen so much out. They can remove sediment and larger bacteria, but amoebas and viruses can escape their screens. While these contaminants aren’t very common in the United States, they are prevalent in water in many other places. For that, specialized pumps and filters are available with pores so fine that even viruses are screened out. For many, however, these are cost-prohibitive and hard to access.

UV Technology Presents Viable Solution for Waterborne Illnesses

One of the most exciting advances in water purification and cleaning technology in the last century has been the development of UV water treatment systems. These purification systems use high-intensity ultraviolet light to disrupt the reproduction cycle of waterborne pathogens such as bacteria, viruses, and protozoa, effectively stopping their ability to infect anyone without physically removing them from the water being treated. UV systems are transportable, easy to use, and cost-effective when considering how many liters the UV system can treat. Its cost can be as low as 2 cents per day for twelve liters of clean water.

Don’t Drink Unfiltered Water and Teach Your Kids the Same

While adults are unlikely to swallow the water that ends up in their mouth when splashing at a lake or in a river, a small child is much more likely to do so. Make sure that your children understand the importance of drinking only water that is potable and therefore safe for humans. Teach them to spit out any untreated water that gets into their mouth and to do their best to minimize how much water gets into their mouth when they’re playing in the water. Water can also cause illness if it’s inhaled accidentally, so make sure children know to plug their noses and blow out when underwater just in case.

Common Domestic Waterborne Illnesses

While stories of domestic brain-eating amoeba may make our blood run cold in fear, in reality these cases are incredibly rare. There are many more common forms of waterborne illnesses in the United States, most of which are caused by bacteria. One of the most common forms of waterborne illnesses in the United States is Swimmer’s Ear, an ear infection caused by the bacteria in waterfowl feces. Another common illness is giardiasis, a flu-like illness caused by exposure to bacteria that live in animal feces. Legionnaire’s disease is also common, affecting fifty thousand Americans annually, and is more common in public water spaces than natural bodies of water.

Preventing Common Waterborne Illness in Your Family

Swimmer’s ear, which is a common waterborne illness, is caused by bacteria from untreated water entering the outer ear canal during water-related activities. That water may not completely drain, creating a moist environment where the bacteria that cause the infection can thrive. Water from swimming can cause other kinds of ear infections, too. Wiping the ears out with a finger or a cotton swab will not kill the bacteria and may increase the risk of infection by damaging the skin. Thankfully, there is an effective solution to minimize your family’s risk of developing an ear infection.

The AcQua MD Can Reduce the Risk of Ear Infections 

There is a cutting edge product called the acQuaMD, which can help safely remove water from your ear canal. It operates using high and low-frequency vibrations to safely and painlessly coax the water from the ear canal. There are soft “nibs” in both a large adult size and smaller child size that can be cleaned between uses. By gently removing the water from the ear canal after swimming or waterplay, the acQuaMD reduces the risk of the development of swimmer’s ear and other ear infections. It can help protect your family from one of the most common domestic waterborne illnesses, and it is reusable and quite affordable.

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