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Global WASH-Related Diseases and Contaminants


Waterborne Diseases

Waterborne diseases are caused by pathogenic microbes that can be directly spread through contaminated water. Most waterborne diseases cause diarrheal illness [Note: not all diseases listed below cause diarrhea]. Eighty-eight percent of diarrhea cases worldwide are linked to unsafe water, inadequate sanitation or insufficient hygiene 1. These cases result in 1.5 million deaths each year, mostly in young children 1. The usual cause of death is dehydration. Most cases of diarrheal illness and death occur in developing countries because of unsafe water, poor sanitation, and insufficient hygiene. Other waterborne diseases do not cause diarrhea; instead these diseases can cause malnutrition, skin infections, and organ damage.

For more information about specific waterborne diseases, please visit:

Amebiasis (CDC)
Buruli Ulcer* (CDC, WHO)
Campylobacter (CDC, WHO)
Cholera (CDC, WHO)
Cryptosporidiosis (CDC)
Cyclosporiasis (CDC)
Dracunculiasis (guinea-worm disease) (CDC, Carter Center, WHO)
Escherichia coli (CDC, WHO)
Fascioliasis (CDC, WHO)
Giardiasis (CDC)
Hepatitis (CDC, WHO)
Leptospirosis (CDC, WHO)
Norovirus (CDC)
Rotavirus (CDC, WHO)
Salmonella (CDC, WHO)
Schistosomiasis (CDC, WHO, WHO-PPC)
Shigellosis (CDC, WHO)
Typhoid Fever (CDC, WHO)

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Sanitation & Hygiene-Related Diseases

Sanitation and hygiene are critical to health, survival, and development. A significant amount of disease could be prevented through better access to adequate sanitation facilities and better hygiene practices. Improved sanitation facilities (for example, toilets and latrines) allow people to dispose of their waste appropriately, which helps break the infection cycle of many diseases.

Hygiene refers to acts that can lead to good health and cleanliness, such as frequent handwashing, face washing, and bathing with soap and clean water. Practicing personal hygiene in many parts of the world can be difficult due to lack of clean water and soap.

Providing access to safe water and sanitation facilities, and promoting proper hygiene behavior are important in reducing the burden of disease from sanitation and hygiene-related diseases.

For more information about diseases specifically related to inadequate sanitation and hygiene, please visit:

Lice (CDC)
Lymphatic filariasis (CDC, WHO, Global Alliance to Eliminate LF)
Ringworm (CDC, WHO, NIH)
Scabies (CDC, WHO)
Soil transmitted helminthiasis (CDC, Ascaris, Whipworm, Hookworm, WHO, Children without Worms, WHO-PPC)
Trachoma (CDC, WHO, International Trachoma Initiative)

[Note: Many of the waterborne diseases of the previous section may also be associated with inadequate sanitation and hygiene.]

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Vector or Insect-borne Diseases Associated with Water

Water plays a critical role in the spread of insect-borne diseases because many insects, such as mosquitos, breed around water. An increase in water, especially from flooding, can directly impact the number of mosquitoes and other insects that breed around water, potentially creating high-risk environments for disease. Infected insects can transmit deadly disease to humans through their bite, such as malaria, dengue fever, and West Nile encephalitis. Worldwide, over one million people die each year due to mosquito-borne diseases, most of them young children in sub-Saharan Africa 2. Insect-borne diseases are rarely contracted in North America, but some have become more common recently, such as West Nile virus.

For more information about insect-borne diseases associated with water, please visit:

Arboviral Encephalitides (CDC, WHO)(Eastern Equine Encephalitis, Japanese Encephalitis, La Crosse Encephalitis, St. Louis Encephalitis, Western Equine Encephalitis, West Nile Virus)
Dengue/dengue haemorrhagic fever (CDC, WHO)
Malaria (CDC, WHO)
Onchocerciasis (CDC, WHO)
Rift Valley Fever (CDC, WHO)
Yellow Fever (CDC, WHO)

For more information on how to protect yourself from mosquitoes, ticks, fleas, and other insects, visit CDC’s Travelers’ Health webpage.

For more water-related diseases, see CDC Healthy Water's Water-related Diseases, Contaminants, and Injuries.

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Neglected Tropical Diseases

Worldwide, approximately 1 billion people are affected by one or more neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) 3. According to the World Health Organization, the diseases below are named neglected because they "persist exclusively in the poorest and the most marginalized communities, and have been largely eliminated and thus forgotten in wealthier places" 4. Neglected tropical diseases are most often found in places with unsafe drinking water, poor sanitation and insufficient hygiene practices. These diseases can cause severe pain, disabilities, and death. Please note the diseases with double asterisks (**), are those NTDs that are directly water and/or hygiene-related.

For more information about neglected tropical diseases, please visit:

Buruli Ulcer*, ** (CDC, WHO)
Chagas disease (American trypanosomiasis) (CDC, WHO)
Dengue/dengue haemorrhagic fever** (CDC, WHO)
Dracunculiasis (guinea-worm disease)** (CDC, Carter Center, WHO)
Fascioliasis** (CDC, WHO)
Human African Trypanosomiasis (CDC, WHO)
Leishmaniasis (CDC, WHO)
Leprosy (CDC, WHO)
Lymphatic filariasis** (CDC, WHO, Global Alliance to Eliminate LF)
Neglected zoonoses (WHO)
Onchocerciasis** (CDC, WHO)
Schistosomiasis** (CDC, WHO, WHO-PPC)
Soil transmitted helminthiasis (CDC, Ascaris, Whipworm, Hookworm, WHO, Children without Worms, WHO-PPC)
Trachoma** (CDC, WHO, International Trachoma Initiative)
Yaws (WHO)

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* According to the World Health Organization, Buruli Ulcer is believed to be present within aquatic environments (for example, small aquatic animals, biofilms) from where it can be spread to humans by an unknown mechanism.

** Neglected Tropical Diseases that are directly water and/or hygiene-related.


  1. World Health Organization. Safer Water, Better Health: Costs, benefits, and sustainability of interventions to protect and promote health. [PDF - 60 pages]
  2. CDC. The Impact of Malaria, a Leading Cause of Death Worldwide.
  3. World Health Organization. Neglected Tropical Diseases, Hidden Successes, Emerging Opportunities. [PDF - 52 pages]
  4. World Health Organization. 10 Facts on Neglected Tropical Diseases.

 

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