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Water-related Diseases

Waterborne Organisms and Health

Some microorganisms (germs) are naturally present in the environment and do not represent a health risk. Other organisms including bacteria, parasites, and viruses are found in human or animal waste and can get into groundwater (well water) and cause illness. The most common type of illness experienced is gastrointestinal with symptoms such as: stomach cramps or pain, diarrhea (sometimes bloody), vomiting, and fever. Depending on the organism, symptoms can last from 5 days to 6 weeks.

For any health concerns, contact your healthcare provider. For questions about waterborne diseases, you can contact the Epidemiology and Response Division on-call number to speak with an epidemiologist at (505) 827-0006 or 888-878-8992.

Why is water quality in community water systems important?

Naturally present bacteria in the aquifer (groundwater) environmentInformation
Coliforms Widely present in the environment. Most strains will not make you sick. Coliforms are tested in drinking water as an indicator for other potentially harmful organisms such as E. coli.
Sulfur bacteria Hydrogen Sulfide and Sulfur bacteria can be present in low oxygen water (such as deep wells). Sulfur bacteria produce hydrogen sulfide gas and a rotten egg smell. While unpleasant, the concentrations in private drinking water supplies are typically found below levels that would cause health concerns.
Iron bacteria This bacterium forms a smelly biofilm that thrives when iron is present. These naturally occurring biofilms are usually harmless. Iron can change how the water looks and tastes.

Enteric (Intestinal) Illness Causing Organisms
ExamplesEscherichia coliGiardiaEnterovirus
ShigellaHepatitis A
What kind of illness do they cause? Gastro-intestinal problems. Common symptoms include: Stomach cramps or pain, diarrhea (sometimes bloody), vomiting, fever, rotten egg smelling diarrhea (giardia).
Susceptible populationsChildren, the elderly and immune-compromised people.

Children and seniors

Children, the elderly, and immune-compromised people can be more susceptible to waterborne pathogens. Dehydration can result from diarrhea or vomiting. If contamination is known or suspected, use an alternate clean water source for bathing and drinking. If any possible symptoms of dehydration, vomiting or weight loss occur, visit your healthcare provider.

Private Wells and Water-Related Diseases

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the top 5 causes of outbreaks in private water systems (wells) are infectious diseases. These include:

Top Causes of Outbreaks in Wells 1971-2010
1. Hepatitis A
2. Giardia
3. Campylobacter and E. coli (tie)
4. Shigella
5. Cryptosporidium and Salmonella (tie)

How do they get into drinking water (wells)?

The well water gets contaminated with infected human or animal waste. Common sources are: septic systems, animals such as livestock, and fertilizer (manure). The well can become contaminated after maintenance or a disturbance (like a flood) if the well head is damaged or not properly maintained.

What can I do?

  • Protect your water source from waterborne pathogens.
  • Treat your water.
  • Clean your well.
  • Boil water (if well water has tested positive for bacteria)
  • Prepare when flooding is likely.
  • Consider an alternative clean water source for drinking, cooking, and bathing.
  • See a health care provider for any health concerns

If you are on a community water system, pay attention to boil water advisories issued by your Public Water System provider.

Notifiable Diseases or Conditions in New Mexico (N.M.A.C

The following conditions are reportable to the New Mexico Department of Health: (b) suspected waterborne illness or conditions in two or more unrelated persons. Report to Epidemiology and Response Division, NM Department of Health, P.O. Box 26110, Santa Fe, NM 87502-6110; or call 505-827-0006.