Raw Sewage contains a multitude of biological agents such as bacteria, viruses and parasite that can cause serious illness and in some serious cases, even death. The health effects associated with exposure to sewage and faecal matter are serious and real.
Tetanus is a bacterium that enters the body by open wounds. If infected, there is a high risk of death. The toxin which causes tetanus; Clostridium tetani; is commonly found in sewage and soil. Anyone exposed to either should have prophylaxis tetanus vaccinations every ten years.
Leptospirosis is another infectious disease that is transmitted from water and damp earth that harbour this dangerous organism. Both septicaemia and aseptic meningitis are caused by a leptospirosis infection. The initial phase lasts between 4-7 days and is characterised by acuate headaches, chills and fever, severe muscle aches, anorexia, nausea and vomiting. The second phase is the immune phase, which follows a 2-3 day asymptomatic period, where no specific symptoms are present, but the body and immune system deteriorates. 10-15% of patients infected with leptospirosis present with Weil’s disease, haemorrhage and renal damage.
Hepatitis A is another virus with can be found in sewage spills, however, to become infected, there must be sufficient quantity of the pathogen to cause infection. This in no way limits or diminishes the seriousness of infection occurring. Hepatitis A is often mild, but can be deadly in some cases. Hepatitis A can cause fever, headaches, pain in the abdomen, nausea and jaundice. Importantly, Hepatitis A can be spread from the infected person to others. Recovery can be quite slow and may require several weeks or even months of increased rest.
Giardia and Cryptosporidium are commonly found in sewage and surface water. Both cause diarrhoea, stomach cramps, nausea and fever. Symptoms can last for day or weeks, and in the most extreme cases, sometimes even years. Not all people infected have symptoms with is why both Giardia and Cryptosporidium pathogens are common in sewage and surface waters.
Gram-negative bacteria such as E.coli, salmonella, entamoeba and parasitic helminthes such as round works and flat worms are also of a concern to those who handle or undertake sewage contamination clean ups.
E.coli can cause gastro-intestinal diseases, and if inhaled, repertory and airway problems, headaches, fever, tiredness and nausea.
The risk of exposure to all the above-mentioned pathogens and parasites depends on the microbes present, duration of exposure, method of exposure and general health of the person exposed. The risk of exposure when handling sewage can be dramatically reduced by effective and immediate response by a trained experienced sewage and faecal matter clean up expert.