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Where do waterborne diseases rank in causing human health problems?

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  • Giardia: Another increasingly common water related diarrhea disease around the world, including the United States, is giardiasis, which is caused by a one-celled microscopi parasite (Giardia). Similar to the spread of cryptosporidium in the environment, giardia is transmitted by discharges of fecal wastes into water, food, soil and other surfaces, and therefore the preventative hygienic measures that are being recommended to lower the overall incidence of the former disease applies here equally well.

  • Malaria: One of the most serious vector-borne diseases in the world today is malaria. It occurs in many tropical regions of the world, such as Central and South Africa, Hispaniola, the sub-Saharan region of Africa (where the largest incidences are annually reported), Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, Middle East and Oceania. It is a water related disease, since it is caused by four subspecies of microscopic parasites (Plasmodium) carried by female Anopheles mosquitoes that breed its larvae in stagnant waters and storage reservoirs in warm climates.

  • Malarial Incidence: Each year, 300 to 500 million people contract malaria worldwide, of which 1.5 to 2.7 million people die from the disease, the overwhelming majority (90%) of them children below the age of 5 years. Since the 1970s, there has been a resurgence of malaria in different regions of the world, partially due to the rapid formation of resistant parasites to malaria preventing drugs, such as chloroquine and other quinoline products. In addition, significant increases in the incidence of malaria in recent years have been caused by the construction of dams, intensified irrigation systems and other water related projects, which have become new mosquito breeding sites in many developing regions.

  • Schistosomiasis: It is estimated that 200 million people worldwide are infected with schistosomiasis, with another 2 billion people in some 74 countries are at elevated risk from this debilitating water-borne disease. Schistosomiasis (sometimes known as bilharzias) is caused by parasitic worms (Schistosoma) when human beings come into contact with certain types of snails that harbor these parasites in contaminated fresh 4 water. The main factor in the proliferation of this disease is when human fecal wastes are dumped in fresh water sources.

The problems of water pollution and drinking water contamination in the two North America countries tend to be similar in nature, since the types of industrial and municipal discharges, disposal of hazardous wastes and agricultural runoffs are not markedly different. The chemical and biological contaminants in drinking water that have serious potential impacts on human health are numerous.

In recent years, several water-borne infectious diseases outbreaks have occurred in United States and Canada that were caused by parasites found in contaminated rivers and lakes. These include Crytosporidium and Giardia, which enter surface waters through improper sewage disposal and animal wastes. ยท The extensive chlorination in United States and Canada to destroy pathogenic bacteria in drinking water supplies has lead to an even larger problem; the formation of disinfectant by-products, such as halogenated hydrocarbons. One class of these halogen-containing organic 7 compounds -- trihalomethanes (e.g., chloroform) -- pose long-term health impacts on the general population, such as liver, kidney, central nervous system disorders and may pose an increased risk of contracting cancer.

The widespread use of the fuel additive MTBE in the United States has led to its increasing presence in many surface and ground water sources in the country. While the long-term toxicity of MBTE has been documented, a drinking water standard for this pervasive contaminant has not been established as yet by the United States Environmental Protection Agency. Drinking water sources may also contain radioactive substances, such as Radium 226/228 and a variety of beta-emitting minerals found in underground aquifers. These contaminants pose cancer risks to individuals who ingest radioactive sources of drinking water over a long period. In addition, radon gas in the soil can dissolve and accumulate in ground water posing health risk to communities that ingest such contaminated sources of water. Radioactive radon has been shown in recent years to be a potential cancer causing substance.

Worldwide, dirty water will continue to be the cause of numerous diseases and rank second only to poor nutrition in causing human suffering and death. Poor nutrition, poor hygiene and poor sanitation often go hand-in-hand with an inadequate supply of good quality water, especially in the highly-populated developing countries. Studies have estimated that there are as many as 4 billion cases of diarrhea worldwide each year due to consumption of contaminated water and that 2.2 million people die each year from diarrhea diseases. And until the quality of the water is increased, theses waterborne disease conditions will likely remain.

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