Waterborne illnesses result from the ingestion, contact, or inhalation of pathogens (bacteria, viruses, or parasites) or chemicals in water. These contaminants may exist in water regardless of the source of the water. Exposure to contaminated water may occur from drinking or household water or from recreational water.
Common symptoms of waterborne illness from ingested pathogens are diarrhea, fever, nausea and vomiting. Common pathogens causing waterborne diarrheal infections in Tennessee are the parasites, Cryptosporidium, Giardia; bacteria, Campylobacter, E.coli, Salmonella, and Shigella; and norovirus. Symptoms of pathogens contacted in water may include eye and ear infections or rashes on skin from the bacteria, Pseudomonas. Inhalation of aerosolized water containing Legionella bacteria may cause pneumonia or the respiratory illnesses, Legionnaires Disease or Pontiac Fever. For more information about waterborne illness, symptoms and pathogens please visit the CDC’s Waterborne Disease Prevention website.
Chemicals in water can vary in type and concentration. Symptoms would vary according to the specific chemical, dose and type of exposure. In Tennessee, we have had documented waterborne chemical related illnesses caused by over chlorination in swimming pools and consumption of pesticides in private water supplies. The CDC Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry provides information about adverse health effects from chemical exposures in water and other media. For drinking water and naturally occurring recreation water the EPA and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation regulate contaminants.
Waterborne Disease Outbreaks
Waterborne disease outbreaks have been reduced in the U.S. due to legislation of the Clean Water and the Safe Drinking water acts and adherence to EPA safe drinking water standards established for public water systems. The Clean Water Act regulates discharges to land and water. Discharges include sewage, industrial effluent, sediment, and fill material that may contaminate waterways. The Safe Drinking Water Act is specific to drinking water standards of disinfection, filtration and general water quality.
To report a food or water related illness, please call our hotline 1-800-293-8228.