Cholera and waterborne disease facts

Updated Apr 23, 2019
5-Minute Read
Water is a lifesaver, but it can also be a major threat to human life when it’s contaminated.
What is a waterborne disease?
Waterborne diseases are usually caused when a person drinks, bathes in, washes with or prepares food with water that has been contaminated by bacteria, viruses or parasites, usually from human or animal waste.
Types of waterborne diseases include diarrhea, dysentery and cholera.
Diarrhea, though common and easy to treat in sanitary living conditions, can be deadly without medical care and clean water since the rapid loss of fluids can lead to severe dehydration. Generally, if blood is passed, the illness is not diarrhea but dysentery.
Cholera is a more severe infection. Symptoms include profuse diarrhea and vomiting, sunken eyes, wrinkled hands and the skin turning a bluish-grey hue. Cholera progresses very quickly, within one to five days of infection, and if left untreated, can lead to death.
Why are they dangerous?
Water-borne diseases are dangerous in any condition, but during a disaster—like floods—there are several main concerns.
1. Contaminated drinking water
When disaster strikes, sanitation and clean water are often the first measures of infrastructure to suffer. Clean water is essential for preventing deadly waterborne illnesses, such as cholera and dysentery but it is often in short supply once water sources are contaminated.
2. Lack of medication
The combination of lack of clean water and poor access to medication could prove deadly, especially when added to poor living conditions and lack of food for flood-displaced people.
3. Outbreaks of malaria
In addition to waterborne illnesses, standing water also acts as a breeding ground for mosquitoes, increasing the risk of malaria.
4. Child health
With unsafe water, there is serious concern for children, especially those under the age of three. They tend to spend more time playing in areas with high risk of contamination. Their small body size makes them more susceptible to diarrhea-related dehydration (which can be deadly). Since many kids in the developing world suffer from malnutrition, their immune systems are weaker and less able to fight off infections.
Help make water safe again
When disasters hit communities one of the most urgently needed resources is safe water. Without it, diseases like cholera can swiftly kill children. Change this reality by giving to the Emergency Relief Fund. ​​​​​​​