Waterborne Diseases

Waterborne diseases are those in which the consumption of or exposure to water and/or water systems lead to illness. Common waterborne diseases include, but are not limited to giardiasis, cryptosporidiosis, vibriosis, shigellosis, and legionellosis. Gastrointestinal, respiratory, and wound infections are typical signs and symptoms of these diseases. These diseases implicate compromised water sanitation and safety that have the potential to affect a large number of people.

A subset of waterborne diseases include recreational water illnesses (RWI), which are caused by pathogens found in the water we swim in. These types of illnesses are indicative of poor maintenance of recreational waters, including water parks and public swimming pools. When multiple people become ill following exposure to recreational water(s), identification of a common source outbreak may result.

Untreated waters, such as lakes and beaches, also harbor pathogens that cause RWI. Without monitoring or maintenance of chemical levels, organisms that naturally exist in these environments may flourish. The Coastal Alabama Beach Monitoring Program, a collaboration between ADPH and the Alabama Department of Environmental Management, assesses water quality of different sites in Alabama. Visit the websites for coastal conditions and the Coastal Alabama Beach Monitoring Program before planning your next coastal trip.

What's New!

  • ADPH Releases Information on Bacteria Found in Untreated Waters: ADPH News Release - July 2017
  • Healthy and Safe Swimming Week 2017: The week before Memorial Day (May 22–28, 2017) is National Healthy and Safe Swimming Week. The goal of this week is to maximize the health benefits of swimming by promoting healthy and safe water activities. Just 2.5 hours of water-based (or other forms of) physical exercise per week has health benefits for everyone. Each of us plays a role in preventing illnesses and injuries linked to the water we share and swim in, this summer and year-round. ADPH encourages those who plan to participate in recreational water activities to take simple and effective preventative steps, listed below.

Fast 5!

  • W – Water and diarrhea do not mix! Don’t swim when sick with diarrhea
  • A – Always practice good swimming hygiene; shower before you get in the water
  • T – Take kids on frequent bathroom breaks
  • E – Educate yourself and others on healthy swimming
  • R – Report if you have a fecal incident while swimming

In Alabama, waterborne diseases affect hundreds of residents annually. It is our responsibility, as public health officials, to monitor, prevent, and mitigate waterborne-associated illness.

Check out the music video below for a fun message on healthy swimming for kids!

Additional Resources


Page last updated: July 10, 2017