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Waterborne Diseases: Everything You Need to Know

September 14, 2022

Although the United States has one of the safest drinking water supplies in the world, the CDC reports around 7.2 million Americans get sick every year from diseases spread through water. Why?

Alejandro Belistri, APRN with Hartford HealthCare Medical Group in Bridgeport, shares what waterborne diseases are and the steps you can take to lower your risk.

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What are waterborne diseases?

Waterborne diseases are a category of illnesses caused by microorganisms in untreated or contaminated water.

According to Belistri waterborne illnesses have a mixture of causes, including lack of clean and safe drinking water, poor sanitation and poor hygiene practices.

Symptoms of these diseases can include:

  • Nausea
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Stomach cramps
  • Vomiting

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Most common offenders

The CDC estimates that one in 44 people gets sick from waterborne diseases in the US each year. Here are the top five offenders:

  • Otitis externa, more commonly known as swimmer’s ear
  • Norovirus infection
  • Giardiasis
  • Cryptosporidiosis
  • Campylobacteriosisis


“The first step to preventing waterborne diseases is to practice good hygiene, especially washing your hands thoroughly with soap and water,” said Belistri. “If clean water is not available for bathing, alcohol gel or hand sanitizer are exceptional alternatives.”

Belistri also suggests drinking only filtered or bottled water. “Tap water is not sterile, meaning it can contain the bacteria that cause these diseases,” she adds.