How does poor sanitation lead to health problems ?


Illnesses caused by germs and worms in feces are a constant source of discomfort for millions of people. These illnesses can cause many years of sickness and can lead to other health problems such as dehydration, anemia, and malnutrition. Severe sanitation-related illnesses like cholera can spread rapidly, bringing sudden death to many people.
Signs of illness
Signs of illness

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How germs spread disease

Many illnesses are spread from person to person by germs. Germs are tiny living things that cause sickness. Sometimes it is easy to know where germs are - in feces, rotting foods, and other dirty places. But sometimes, germs are in places that look and smell clean. Germs can pass directly from person to person through touch, and sometimes through the air with dust or when people cough or sneeze. They can spread through food and drinking water. Or they can be carried by flies and animals. Germs that cause diarrhea travel on these paths:


Sometimes it is easier to remember the ways germs travel by showing that they are all words beginning with the letter "F": fingers, flies, fields, foods, and fluids (water).

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How germs spread
How germs spread

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What could have prevented the family's illness?

The spread of illness could have been prevented:

  • if the man had used a toilet. 
  • if the pig was kept in a fenced area. 
  • if the child had washed his hands, rather than used his mother's skirt. 
  • if the mother had not touched her soiled skirt and then touched the food. 
  • if the mother had washed her hands with soap and water.


Important: washing hands
Important: washing hands

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Ways to prevent spread of germs and worms

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Homestead hygeine

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Bladder and kidney infections

Infections of the bladder and kidney are caused by germs. These infections are much more common in women than in men because germs can easily get into the body through the urinary opening near the vagina. Infections of the urinary system can be mild or severe and even life-threatening.



Causes of bladder infections

Germs can enter the urinary opening and cause infection when a woman:

  • goes a long time without urinating. Try to urinate every 3 or 4 hours.
  • goes a long time without drinking liquids. Try to drink at least 8 glasses or cups of clean water a day. Drink even more when working in the hot sun. 
  • does not keep her genitals clean. Try to wash the genitals every day, and always wipe from front to back after using the toilet. 
  • has sex. This is one of the most common causes of bladder infection in women. To prevent infection, urinate after having sex. This washes   the germs that cause bladder infections out of the urine tube.

A girl or woman of any age - even a small baby - can get an infection of her urine system.

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Signs and treatment

Signs of bladder or urinary tract infection include:

  • Need to urinate often and urgently 
  • Pain in the lower belly just after urinating 
  • Burning feeling when urinating 
  • Urinating without control 
  • Reddish or cloudy urine 
  • Foul-smelling urine

If you have signs of a bladder infection, start drinking plenty of water to help flush out germs. If a bladder infection goes untreated, it can worsen and infect your kidneys. If the signs last more than 2 days, you may need medicines.



Woman drinking water

Woman drinking water

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Signs of kidney infection include:
  • Any bladder infection signs 
  • Pain in the lower back 
  • Fever and chills 
  • Nausea and vomiting 
  • Diarrhea 
  • Feeling very weak and ill 


Kidney infections are more serious than bladder infections because the kidney can get so sick that it stops working. While plenty of water, herbal remedies, or sulfa drugs usually cure a urinary tract infection, a kidney infection often needs more treatment. If you have the signs of a kidney infection, see a health worker right away.
Woman feeling unwell

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Diarrhea and dehydration

Many people die from diarrhea diseases, especially children. These diseases are often caused when germs get into drinking water or food. Most children who die from diarrhea die because they do not have enough water left in their bodies. This lack of water is called dehydration. People of any age can become dehydrated, but dehydration can happen very quickly to small children and is most dangerous for them.
Any child with watery diarrhea is in danger of dehydration.
Signs of dehydration
Signs of dehydration

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Note for the health worker

To teach the signs of dehydration, you can use a "body mapping" activity. Bring parents together and show them a picture of a healthy baby. Have them point or draw arrows to where they would see signs of dehydration. Discuss all the signs. Then discuss the ways they can help their children when these signs appear - and what they can do to prevent dehydration and diarrhea in the first place.


To stop dehydration

When a child has watery diarrhea or diarrhea and vomiting, do not wait for signs of dehydration. Act quickly.
Give lots of liquids to drink, such as a thin cereal porridge or gruel, soup, water, or rehydration drink (see below).
Keep giving food. As soon as the sick child (or adult) can eat food, give frequent feedings of foods he likes. To babies, keep giving breast milk often - and before other drinks.
Rehydration drink helps to prevent or to treat dehydration. It does not cure diarrhea, but may give enough time for the diarrhea to cure itself.


Rehydration drink
Rehydration drink

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WARNING: If dehydration gets worse or other danger signs appear, get medical help. 

Information Source Links

  • Sanitation and Cleanliness for a Healthy Environment - The Hesperian Foundation in collaboration with the United Nations Development Programme (2005). The Hesperian Foundation

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