One of the major targets of the United Nation's Millennium Goals is to improve the health of children in the developing world. A main barrier to this is water-borne diseases, which may be a result of poor sanitation. Some of the more common diseases caused by drinking dirty water include cholera, typhoid fever, Guinea worm disease and arsenicosis.
Cholera is caused by drinking water containing the Vibrio cholerae bacteria. An acute intestinal infection, it causes heavy diarrhea that in turn leads to severe dehydration. It also may be accompanied by vomiting. If not treated, dehydration may lead to death. About 20 percent of cholera sufferers develop diarrhea to the extent of severe dehydration, while another 80 to 90 percent develop only moderate cases of diarrhea, which is difficult to distinguish from other diarrhea-causing factors. Because of this, and as cholera may be spread through fecal matter, outbreaks may be difficult to contain in areas of poor sanitation standards. The disease has been reported in most developing countries with such sanitation standards.
Like cholera, typhoid is a bacterial disease. It is caused by the bacterium Salmonella typhi, which is present in water contaminated with the feces or urine of infected people. After an incubation period of one to three weeks, infected individuals develop symptoms such as fever, headaches, diarrhea, an enlarged spleen and liver and reddish-colored spots on the chest. Symptoms may range from mild to severe, and individuals become carriers after the acute illness. Although the disease has been traditionally treated with antibiotics, the disease is becoming resistant to many of such treatments. An estimated 12 million people contract the disease worldwide every year.
Guinea Worm Disease
Guinea worm disease, also known as dracunculiasis, is contracted when drinking water containing the Dracunculus larvae, a young Guinea worm. The disease is confined in Africa, specifically in the rural areas of Ghana, Mali, Ethiopia and Sudan. Its prevalence has declined considerably over the past few years, from 3.5 million in 1986 to 3,190 in 2009, according to the World Health Organization. Dracunculiasis causes severe and incapacitating pain, which may last for months.
This disease is caused by drinking water contaminated with arsenic over long periods of five to 20 years. Symptoms include hardened lesions on the skin. Such symptoms may expand to include diabetes, reproductive disorders and cancer of the skin, blood vessels, bladder, kidney and lung. Drinking water from natural sources, such as rivers, ponds and wells may contain high levels of arsenic. The problem is especially acute in Bangladesh, where it is estimated that up to 77 million of the country's population are at risk of drinking water contaminated with arsenic. There is little in the way of treatment for the disease, only intervention.