According to the popular statement, we are what we eat. Humans’ health is inextricably linked with water and food people intake. However, drinking water and consuming products to obtain necessary minerals, vitamins, and nutrients, people frequently become afflicted by pathogenic microorganisms. Numerous bacteria, bacilli, viruses, fungi, helminthes, protozoa, and other causative agents can be transmitted to people through contaminated water and food. According to the data provided by the World Health Organization (2006), waterborne and foodborne illnesses include diarrhoea, cholera, cryptosporidiosis, dysentery, melioidosis, septicaemia, hepatitis, Dracunculus medinensis, typhoid fever, and others. Moreover, these diseases can lead to severe complications or even lethal outcomes.
Hazard characteristics of pathogenic agents associated with water and food intake cannot be efficiently evaluated, understood, and managed in isolation from one another.
“Viruses associated with waterborne transmission are predominantly those that can infect the gastrointestinal tract and are excreted in the faeces of infected humans” (WHO, 2006, p. 247). Although such viral diseases as gastroenteritis, hepatitis, acute respiratory diseases, pneumonia, pharyngoconjunctival fever, cervicitis, urethritis, been already discovered and thoroughly investigated, microbiology is still focused on research studies of their nature, properties, types, sources and occurrence, routes of exposure, and potential negative impacts on living organisms. Viruses’ classifications are generally based on their nucleic acid specificity, reproductive capacities, types of capsid symmetry, and absence or presence of an outer membranous lipid layer, which is called an envelope (WHO, 2006; Hendrix, 2008; Willey et al., 2008; Kasper & Fauci, 2010).
The term “virus” originates from the Latin language and means “poison”, “a poisonous or toxic substance”. Viruses are acellular infectious agents, which are able to replicate only in afflicted living cells of an organism. They are generally considered to be one the most widespread biological entities. Viruses are autonomous genetic elements having an extracellular stage in a cycle of their development.
Viruses are obligate intracellular parasites, which are characterized by absence of their own metabolic processes (Willey et al., 2008). Multiple copies of viruses are produced using metabolism of a host cell. Viruses are cultivated using embryonated eggs, tissue cultures, bacterial cultures, and other host cells of living organisms. Despite differences in reproductive strategies of viruses, their life cycle generally involves the following stages: attachment to a host cell, penetration or entry into it, uncoating or removal of a capsid, synthesis or replication of viral components such as nucleic acid and proteins, self-assembly of viral particles, and release from a host cell.
Although viruses are inactive outside their host living cells, they are characterized by their ability to infect cells of all living organisms (humans’, animals’, plants’, fungi’s, and bacteria’s) and, thus, cause different diseases. Diverse viral species trigger a wide range of illnesses such as influenza, ebola, AIDS, acute and chronic hepatitis, tonsillitis, cold sores, infectious mononucleosis, pneumonia, poliomyelitis, measles, leukemia, and other severe diseases (WHO, 2006; Hendrix, 2008; Willey et al., 2008; Kasper & Fauci, 2010). Diverse pathogenic properties and nature of viruses require thorough research studies in order to reveal their potential impacts on humans and prevent their transmission through food and water.
Vegetables, rice, pastas, raw milk, fish, meat products, as well as drinking water, could contain different bacteria such as Salmonella, Escherichia coli, Vibrio cholera, Clostridium botulinum, Clostridium perfringens, Entamoeba, Shigella, Staphylococcus aureus, Yersinia enterocolitica, and Giardia. The most severe food- and waterborne illnesses are botulism, gastroenteritis, bacteraemia typhoid fever, dysentery, and cholera (WHO, 2006; Willey et al., 2008; Kasper & Fauci, 2010). Excreting toxins, bacteria disrupt functioning of the digestive system and poison all systems of a humans’ organism.
Depending on a bacterium and a disease caused by it, manifestations of bacteria-related food- and waterborne illnesses vary including chills, fatigue, dizziness, a mild fever, headaches, an upset stomach, diarrhoea, dehydration, severe cramps, vision problems, and even death. However, the basic symptoms of foodborne diseases or food poisoning are nausea, vomiting, and diarrhoea. “Worldwide, diarrheal diseases are second only to respiratory diseases as a cause of adult death; they are the leading cause of childhood death, and in some parts of the world they are responsible for more years of potential life lost than all other causes combined” (Willey et al., 2008, p. 979). Diarrhea can lead to dehydration (water removal) and electrolyte imbalance.
Electrolytes are water-soluble substances; they are essential for body systems functions. Being dissolved in an appropriate liquid (solvent), electrolytes produce positively or negatively charged ions and conduct an electrical current. Electrolytes transmit electrochemical impulses in muscles and tissues. All electrolytes are comprised of inorganic and organic acids and bases, proteins, and inorganic salts. Sodium, potassium (serum), calcium, chloride, magnesium, and phosphate contribute to “the transmission of electrochemical impulses in muscle fibers... and cellular metabolism” (DeLaune & Ladner, 2011, p. 619). Nerve conduction, cardio processes, growth and development of bones, and muscle contraction and coordination depend on the specific concentrations of electrolytes (Smolin & Grosvenor, 2010, p. 439). Insufficient or excessive amounts of electrolytes can induce severe disorders.
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Chronic diarrhea, for instance, can induce a decrease in magnesium. The importance of magnesium is frequently underappreciated although it is one of the main electrolytes. Magnesium “affects the metabolism of calcium, sodium, and potassium” (Smolin & Grosvenor, 2010, p. 479). Magnesium is necessary for muscles to contract and relax; it plays a vital role in building muscles and the most important chemical reactions occurring in the body. Magnesium prevents osteoporosis, “the bone-thinning disease”, and is as essential for healthy bones as calcium. Deficiency of magnesium results in changes in heartbeat and muscle weakness and cramping.
Diarrhea is associated with increased ranges of sodium; such a condition is interconnected with elevated blood pressure or hypertension (DeLaune & Ladner, 2011). Hypertension is diagnosed in case levels of the blood pressure are higher than 140 mm Hg systolic or 90 mm Hg diastolic within three separate readings, which are recorded several weeks apart. Hypertension increases the risk of such severe diseases as coronary artery disease, stroke, heart failure, retinopathy, peripheral vascular disease, and kidney failure. In addition, sodium is responsible for water regulations in the body. It is taken up by the gastro-intestinal tract and excreted by the kidneys.
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To conclude, despite numerous researches on causative agents of food- and waterborne illnesses, new means of their monitoring, well-developed methods of treatment, and efficient medications, annual data provided by the World health Organization testify to the prevalence of illnesses associated with contaminated drinking water and food consumption. Thus, diverse properties and nature of viruses, bacteria, fungi, helminthes, protozoa, and other pathogenic agents require thorough research studies in order to reveal their potential impacts on humans and prevent occurrence of food- and waterborne diseases.