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What are Water-Borne Diseases

In developing countries, the scarcity of clean water amplifies the challenges posed by waterborne diseases, creating a formidable barrier to quality education. Like all other undetectable viruses and bacteria, waterborne diseases strike silently through tiny organisms that enter the body. Diseases like typhoid, giardia, cholera, and so many others jeopardize not only physical well-being but also the cognitive capacities of individuals–especially in young children. 

And while science and collective efforts from community leaders and governments continue to make great strides to cut back the number of waterborne illness cases each year, much work remains to be done. That is why we at Healing Waters International have made it part of our mission to provide education on health and sanitization while helping provide vital, clean water access to marginalized communities. Read on to learn how various waterborne diseases can have serious long-term effects on the human body and how you can help contribute to our mission of bringing sustainable solutions to these communities.

Common Types of Water-Borne Diseases


Diarrhea stands out as the most prevalent waterborne disease, often being classified as a primary symptom in many other waterborne diseases mentioned on this list. What might seem like an inconvenience to a person living in a developed nation can end up becoming a life-threatening illness for someone living in areas with unsafe drinking water.

In a study conducted by The Pediatric Infectious Disease Journal, researchers found that children who suffered from early childhood diarrhea, or ECD, could continue to experience negative ramifications to their physical fitness, growth, and cognitive function 6 to 9 years later.1 This means that both school readiness and performance could be impacted, which could potentially lead to long-term educational challenges and hinder overall well-being. 

Typhoid Fever

Typhoid fever has largely been eradicated in most developed countries; however, in some regions with inadequate sanitation and limited access to clean water, typhoid fever persists. This is because it is only spread through contaminated water and food sources. 

Typhoid fever is most often categorized by its feverish symptoms, including high fever, headache, stomach pain, and rose-colored spots. And while most cases of typhoid fever do not result in long-term neurological complications or learning disabilities, absenteeism in schools places a huge strain on both students and teachers alike. 


Typically found in ponds and streams, giardia can eventually make its way into a water supply by way of a parasite. Those infected often experience symptoms of diarrhea, abdominal cramps, and nausea. While individuals who contract giardia often recover without medical intervention, studies have identified correlations between giardia infections and adverse effects on child linear growth and psychomotor development.

Similar to diarrhea and typhoid fever, as children take time to recover at home, they lose out on valuable learning opportunities. Chronic absenteeism can lead to academic setbacks and a widening educational gap, especially in developing nations. 


People all across the globe deal with salmonella, an infection that comes from consuming contaminated food or water, or food that is undercooked. While most people who contract salmonella only experience mild symptoms, salmonella naturally dehydrates the body. Without clean water to rehydrate the body, a more serious infection may occur. 

Symptoms include diarrhea, abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, fever, and headache, and in severe cases, it can lead to dehydration and require medical attention. In newborns, infants, and even children, salmonella can have detrimental effects on the central nervous system (CNS), causing issues like bacterial colonization, brain abscesses, edema, cerebral infarction, pus collection in cerebral cavities, and brain inflammation.3 All of these complications can have negative repercussions on children’s ability to learn and develop.


Cholera, a waterborne disease caused by the Vibrio cholerae bacterium, primarily spreads through ingesting contaminated water or food. In areas with inadequate sanitation and limited access to clean water, the risk of cholera outbreaks intensifies.  

Symptoms include severe watery diarrhea, vomiting, and muscle cramps. Rapid onset and the volume of fluid loss through diarrhea can lead to dehydration, making timely intervention crucial. Contaminated water sources serve as breeding grounds for the Vibrio cholerae bacterium, posing a constant threat to communities with compromised water infrastructure.

The severity of symptoms often necessitates time away from school for recovery, contributing to absenteeism. Moreover, the persistent lack of access to clean water and sanitation in affected regions exacerbates the risk of cholera recurrence, perpetuating the cycle of illness and hindering consistent educational progress. This makes devices, like the tippy tap handwashing system, a crucial tool to help break the cycle of illness and promote proper hygiene practices within communities.

E. Coli

Many of us in the United States may be familiar with or even experienced E. coli. Known as the illnesses spread from contaminated foods, E. coli is actually a bacteria already found in the human body to help the intestinal tract, but there are harmful strands out there as well. Found in the waste of cattle and other animals, E. coli can contaminate any nearby sources of produce or water when not careful. 

While many developed countries can avoid E. coli altogether, or recover quickly from drinking lots of safe water, many marginalized communities do not have an option of avoiding contaminated water and are left vulnerable to catching E. coli. The symptoms, similar to dysentery, can be incredibly dangerous to areas without access to a clean water source. 

Studies conducted on mice by The Journal of Alzheimer’s Disease Reports showed cognitive impairment and compromised spatial learning.4 This suggests that E. coli infections in humans may have similar adverse effects on cognitive functions, emphasizing the potential broader implications of bacterial infections on neurological health.

Hepatitis A

Hepatitis A spreads not only through contaminated food and water but also through close contact with an infected person. The virus affects the liver, and symptoms can persist for a few weeks to several months. 

Symptoms of Hepatitis A may take 15-30 days to appear. During this period, an infected person may unknowingly spread the disease to others. While vaccines can prevent this disease, many in impoverished areas remain vulnerable. Emphasizing the importance of handwashing and good hygiene practices is crucial in reducing the risk of transmission.


Amoebiasis, more commonly known as amebic dysentery, is another waterborne disease caused by consuming food or water contaminated with fecal matter. This rarer illness, usually more common in developing nations, attacks the colon through parasitic infected water. Symptoms include abdominal pain, diarrhea, bloody stools, and fever. It is usually treatable with antibiotics; however, early detection and medical intervention are crucial to prevent severe complications.


Vibriosis is typically contracted in coastal or island nations when individuals consume raw shellfish or expose a wound to contaminated seawater. While large-scale vibriosis outbreaks are rare, they should still be taken seriously, especially in developing nations.

Severe cases of vibriosis can lead to systemic infections that might impact overall health, and in such cases, general illness-related fatigue and weakness could indirectly influence one’s ability to focus and learn.

Help Prevent Water-Borne Diseases

young African girl practicing good hygiene washing her hands from a sanitized water pump

The key to preventing waterborne diseases lies in universal access to clean water and comprehensive hygiene training. While the concept is simple, turning it into a reality presents significant challenges. Fortunately, organizations like Healing Waters International are at the forefront, actively addressing these challenges. 

We are dedicated to developing innovative, affordable, and customizable water filtration systems, coupled with hygiene training initiatives. Our goal is to install and supply these systems, along with imparting essential hygiene practices, to ensure safe drinking water for communities in need worldwide.

You can be a part of this transformative journey by supporting us. Consider making a donation to Healing Waters International or joining the Saturate Community, where individuals like you actively contribute to making clean water and hygiene education accessible to all. Your support empowers us to create lasting improvements in global health and well-being. Join us in making a difference today!


  1. Lorntz, B., Soares, A. M., Moore, S. R., Pinkerton, R., Gansneder, B., Bovbjerg, V. E., Guyatt, H., Lima, A. M., & Guerrant, R. L. (2006). Early childhood diarrhea predicts impaired school performance. The Pediatric infectious disease journal, 25(6), 513–520.
  2. Simsek, Z., Zeyrek, F. Y., & Kurcer, M. A. (2004). Effect of Giardia infection on growth and psychomotor development of children aged 0-5 years. Journal of tropical pediatrics, 50(2), 90–93.
  3. van Sorge, N. M., Zialcita, P. A., Browne, S. H., Quach, D., Guiney, D. G., & Doran, K. S. (2011). Penetration and activation of brain endothelium by Salmonella enterica serovar Typhimurium. The Journal of infectious diseases, 203(3), 401–405.
  4. Schütze, S., Döpke, A., Kellert, B., Seele, J., Ballüer, M., Bunkowski, S., Kreutzfeldt, M., Brück, W., & Nau, R. (2022). Intracerebral Infection with E. coli Impairs Spatial Learning and Induces Necrosis of Hippocampal Neurons in the Tg2576 Mouse Model of Alzheimer’s Disease. Journal of Alzheimer’s disease reports, 6(1), 101–114.
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We’re on a mission to end the global water crisis. We build holistic clean water solutions and spread God’s love in at-risk communities around the world, empowering people not just to survive, but to thrive – physically, socially and spiritually.

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