Waterborne Illnessses

In today’s post, we’ll discuss an issue that’s quite appropriate considering the time of year, and the activities that usually accompany that time of year: summer. There are a number of waterborne illnesses one can get, simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Luckily, however, there are a number of measures one can take to mitigate their potential exposure to these types of illnesses. Such microorganisms, (like bacteria and algae) include Giardia, Harmful Algae Blooms, Pseudomonas Dermatitis, and Legionella, (i.e. Legionnaire’s Disease) vary in their rarity, but every summer, there is always a relatively sizable number of people who contract one (or another) form of waterborne illnesses. There are two primary ways people become infected by these diseases; either by getting a cut and going swimming, or by drinking out of “unclean” water sources. In other seasons, the latter isn’t much of an issue, but in the summer, people tend to be out and about, and oftentimes, people won’t think twice about drinking out of a hose, or other potentially unclean sources, due to the heat.


As such, the first measure you can take is relatively simple: anticipate how thirsty you’ll get on a hot day out. Bring fresh, clean water with you instead of drinking out of a hose (common at backyard parties) or out of a stream if you’re on a hike. Even though the source of the water coming out of a hose (or similar) is treated, bacteria, mold, and/or algae can build up in the damp, humid hose when not in use. This applies to similar “alternative” means of drinking water as well. The second way to mitigate these types of illnesses is by ensuring you don’t have any cuts or open sores before you go swimming. Pools obviously pose the least risk, as chlorine is highly potent with regard to killing microorganisms, but other, natural bodies of water pose a higher risk. Stagnant water of any kind is the most dangerous, even if you don’t have any open sores. Accidentally swallowing water, or taking it up your nose by accident, can lead to illness. Most bodies have a very efficient immune system, but even still, it’s possible to get sick simply by swallowing water (again, especially if it’s stagnant or semi-stagnant).


So, what are the symptoms if you do get sick? There are quite a few common waterborne illnesses, so it varies. Legionella causes a pneumonia-like illness, and certain bacteria, like Vibrio vulnificus, can cause necrotizing fasciitis- also known as a “flesh eating bacteria”. Some aren’t as dramatic, and the well-known e. coli can be found in certain bodies of water as well, passed on by animal feces. Overall, it’s best to be cautious, and aware of where you swim, and where you drink from this summer. Be aware of open cuts, sores, and bodies of water that look “stale”. For more information, search “waterborne illnesses” on CDC.gov.