Monday, July 12th, 2010

Screen Before You Drink

water-1Change of season especially as the weather turns warm, causes an increased spate of water-borne diseases. “Technically, water borne diseases mean any disease that spreads via contaminated water. Water can get contaminated because of many reasons and all these reasons overlap with poor hygiene,” explains Dr. Anil Arora, senior consultant gastroenterology with Ganga Ram Hospital. Diseases like typhoid, hepatitis, gastroenteritis and cholera come under waterborne diseases.
Instances of water-borne diseases go up with rain-showers. This happens when home-water supply pipe lines get contaminated with sewer pipe lines. Once this happens there is an outbreak of an epidemic condition. Untreated or inadequately treated municipal sewage is a major source of groundwater and surface water pollution in the country. Almost all epidemics that have happened since 1950 have their origin in water pollution.

Waterborne diseases

Gastroenteritis is a general term referring to inflammation or infection of the gastrointestinal tract, primarily the stomach and intestines. It can be caused by infection with bacteria, viruses, or other parasites, or less commonly, reactions to new foods or medications. Children, old age people and pregnant ladies are more prone to gastroenteritits as they have low immunity.


o Crippling stomach pain
o Diarrohea
o Vomiting


Typhoid and paratyphoid fevers are infections caused by faecal contamination of drinking water. Clean water, hygiene and good sanitation prevent the spread of typhoid and paratyphoid.
Symptoms can be mild or severe and include
o Sustained high fever
o Anorexia
o Headache
o Constipation or diarrhoea
o Rose-coloured spots on the chest area
o Enlarged spleen and liver
Most people show symptoms 1-3 weeks after exposure. Paratyphoid fever has similar symptoms to typhoid fever but is generally a milder disease.
Viral Hepatitis A and E. Hepatitis, a broad term for inflammation of the liver, has a number of infectious and non-infectious causes. Two of the viruses that cause hepatitis (hepatitis A and E) can be transmitted through water and food.

o The illness starts with an abrupt onset of fever, body weakness, loss of appetite, nausea and abdominal discomfort, followed by jaundice within a few days.
o The disease may range from mild (lasting 1-2 weeks) to severe disabling disease (lasting several months
o Nearly all patients recover completely with no long-term effects.


There is a lot that government needs to do to prevent outbreak of waterborne diseases every monsoon. This involves separating drinking water pipes from sewer pipes so that no contamination happens. Typhoid was common in the developed countries in the 19th century but it disappeared as sanitation improved.

But, there is a lot that you can do to prevent waterborne diseases. This involves–

o Wash your hands well with soap after you visit toilet and before you eat.
o Make sure that your cook washes his/her hands well before cooking.
o Avoid raw food—salads and yoghurt at restaurant.
o Stay away from fountain soda.
o Boil water before drinking
o An easy and inexpensive way to purify water is to put chlorine tablets in the water to make it safe for drinking.
o Say no to ice, if it is not frozen from the drinking water.
o Refrigerate left-over food and do it in small batches so that there is uniform cooling.
o Say no to un-pasteurised milk.
o Road site eateries may be tempting but stay away from them.
o If someone is suffering in the family avoid close contact and clean bathroom often.
o Use common sense and do not share drinking water, cutlery and food.
o Get vaccinated against typhoid.

Points to ponder

Use pure drinking water. Boiled water is the best bet to keep stomach infections at bay.

• Indiscriminate use of antibiotics is not good for your digestive health, and supplement antibiotics with probiotics, commonly found in homemade yoghurt.
• When in doubt leave it out. If you’re not sure about a food’s hygiene standards, do not eat it. This includes ice as well.
• Emphasize on rehydrating fluids like ORS in case of diarrohea.

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