Waterborne diseases are caused by unsafe drinking water and poor sanitation. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), more than 3.4 million people die every year as a result of water-related disease, the leading cause of death around the world.1 While the United States boasts a public water supply that is among the safest in the world, many Americans contract serious illnesses from pathogens that get into our water supply.

If the water supply becomes tainted with harmful bacteria or viruses, and we use this contaminated water fordrinking, making ice cubes, preparing food, washing uncooked fruits and vegetables, swimming, brushing our teeth, or cleaning contact lenses, we may become infected and exhibit signs of illness. Symptoms range from mild to severe, and while there are treatments, we must take these diseases very seriously.

Can we prevent waterborne illnesses? Proper water sanitation and safe disposal of infectious waste products help prevent contamination, while good personal hygiene goes a long way toward stopping the spread of disease. Here are some basic actions you can take to help prevent waterborne illness2:

  • Wash hands thoroughly after using the toilet, changing a diaper, caring for someone with diarrhea, handling animals, gardening, and before and after preparing food and eating.
  • Drink only treated water; do not swallow water in swimming pools, hot tubs, lakes or rivers.
  • Avoid drinking tap water and ice when traveling to high-risk destinations.
  • Clean and sanitize all utensils, equipment and food prep surfaces.
  • Drink and eat only pasteurized dairy products.
  • Wash and peel raw vegetables and fruits before eating.

Even if you take preventive measures, you can become infected. The accompanying infographic lists seven waterborne illnesses that are among the most common in the U.S. If you show symptoms and suspect that you have contracted one of these diseases, contact your doctor right away so you can begin treatment as soon as possible.