Health Risks Associated With Sewage

Monday 1st February 2021

Sophie Rioch

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Toolbox alongside open septic tank

What is sewage?

According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), sewage refers to water containing excrement, industrial effluent and debris, such as sanitary towels, condoms or plastic.

The most dangerous component of sewage is excrement, which contains harmful micro-organisms, including bacteria, viruses and parasites. These micro-organisms can be detrimental to human health, causing diseases such as gastroenteritis or hepatitis.

Health risks associated with sewage can arise through both direct and indirect contact. An example of direct contact would be someone coming into physical contact with sewage-contaminated water, for instance, by walking through an area where a broken pipe has leaked sewage onto the pavement.

Indirect contact could refer to a person unknowingly drinking sewage-contaminated water, or stroking an animal carrying parasites on their bodies. Did you know that dogs and cats are hosts to parasites?

Health risks associated with sewage

Though sewage treatment aims to reduce the water content and remove debris, it cannot eradicate all traces of bacteria, viruses or parasites. Therefore, those working with sewage must take extra precaution to prevent contracting illnesses.

Whilst the majority of sewage-related illnesses are relatively minor, some can be fatal.

There are 3 categories:

  • Bacterial diseases
  • Viral diseases
  • Diseases caused by parasites

Bacterial diseases

There are a number of bacterial diseases to be aware of:

Salmonellosis

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), salmonellosis is a bacterial infection caused by salmonella.

In most cases, those who contract salmonella will experience light symptoms, such as diarrhoea, stomach cramps or a fever. However, some individuals have reported long-term health problems such as pain in their joints (reactive arthritis).

Shigellosis

Shigella – caused by shigellosis – is a contagious infection caused by exposure to stool or contaminated water.

Symptoms of shigella are similar to those of salmonella, for example, stomach pain, diarrhoea or a fever. Unlike salmonella, individuals with shigella may also experience the feeling of needing to pass stool even when the bowels are empty. Bowel habits should improve after 7 days, but seek medical advice if issues persist.

Don’t forget to practise good hygiene to avoid passing on the disease to others. Young children, gay men and those with weakened immune systems are among the most vulnerable.

Trachoma

The World Health Organization (WHO) describes trachoma as a bacterial infection affecting the eye.

Trachoma is the world’s leading infectious cause of blindness, affecting around 1.9 million people around the globe. Unfortunately, the effects of trachoma are often irreversible.

The infection is most prominent in poor communities, where groups of people are unknowingly exposed to contaminated water, and can be spread via direct and indirect contact.

Melioidosis

Melioidosis, caused by micro-organisms found in sewage, is spread via direct contact with contaminated water.

The disease is linked with a variety of flu-like symptoms, such as headaches, shortness of breath, disorientation, stomach pain or a cough. However, those with underlying conditions may experience more severe symptoms.

Fortunately, there are a number of antibiotics to tackle the infection, meaning recovery times should not exceed 2-3 months.

Viral diseases

Gastroenteritis

The Health and Safety Executive characterise the main symptoms of gastroenteritis as cramping stomach pains, diarrhoea and vomiting. The viral disease can occur as a result of swallowing contaminated water, with symptoms such as diarrhoea and vomiting likely to present themselves within 1-2 days.

After swallowing contaminated water, the virus will continue to develop inside your digestive system. The side effects of gastroenteritis arise to inflammation of the stomach and small intestine.

Hepatitis A

Individuals working on sites contaminated with raw or untreated sewage may be exposed to strains of Hepatitis A found in the contaminated water.

Though relatively uncommon in the UK due to strict health and safety procedures for those working in such conditions, the disease can lead to flu-like symptoms if caught. Other symptoms, such as jaundice, abdominal pain and itchy skin are also likely.

Diseases caused by parasites

Giardiasis

According to Healthline, giardiasis is caused by a microscopic parasite called ‘Giardia lamblia’ which affects your small intestine.

The condition is spread through direct contact with those infected, as well as by consuming contaminated food or water. Symptoms include nausea, fatigue, diarrhoea, loss of appetite, abdominal pain and vomiting.

Strongyloidiasis

Strongyloidiasis is an infection transmitted through direct penetration of human skin.

Due to technology advancements in western society, cases are incredibly rare. However, if contracted, the infection can cause intermittent symptoms, mostly affecting the skin, lungs and small intestine.

Hookworm infection

Hookworm is a parasitic worm found in sewage which sucks blood from a human host, causing weakness, diarrhoea and constipation (The Department Of Health).

Hookworm infection is less common in Europe as the pathogens thrive in hot climates.

Threadworm infection

Threadworms, nicknamed ‘pinworms’ due to their appearance, are small white worms found in your stool. According to the NHS, threadworms are fairly common in the UK and can be easily treated.

Those with threadworm disease may experience discomfort in their lower region. Generally, symptoms are non-severe and should disappear within a matter of days.

Tapeworm infection

Tapeworms can be difficult to detect as they don’t always cause symptoms. Even when they do, they’re often mistaken for other illnesses.

Though rare in the UK, if you think you have a tapeworm infection, you should seek medical advice immediately. Tapeworms can be transmitted through swallowing contaminated food or water, such as sewage water.

How to prevent health problems

All health risks can be minimised with the right health and safety measures in place.

To reduce the risk of illness and infection, exposure to sewage should be limited. For those whose job involves working in such conditions, it’s important to understand the risks associated through proper instruction, training and supervision.

Personal protective equipment (PPE) should be worn by sewage workers at all times. This includes, waterproof body suits, goggles, face masks, gloves and safety boots.

First and foremost, you should not attempt to clean up sewage unless you possess professional experience and specialist tools. If in doubt, hire an expert.

Call us today

Here at ICE Cleaning, we offer a professional sewage cleaning service carried out by industry experts.

Our sewage cleaning services are available for industrial, commercial and domestic clients. Whether you’re dealing with a leaky pipe, a flood or a sewage tank spillage, we’re here to help.

Our main focus is the safety of our clients.

All of our technicians are fully trained and hold a range of professional health and safety accreditations, such as IOSH and Safe Contractor, meaning you can rest assured that the cleaning process will be completed in accordance with industry regulations.

To find out more, give us a call on 0208 066 0360 or email us on enquiries@icecleaning.co.uk.

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