The wastewater from a septic tank contains a wide variety of pathogens that can prove harmful to humans. Bacteria, viruses and parasites can all be contracted from contact with septic waste. Contact usually occurs when groundwater sources have been contaminated with wastewater from a nearby septic system. The easiest ways to prevent the spread of wastewater-related diseases are to properly maintain the septic systems that foster them and to get vaccinated against the diseases themselves.
Bacteria are microscopic organisms that can survive and thrive in many environments, including in and on humans and animals. The most common wastewater-related diseases caused by bacteria are typhoid, paratyphoid, bacillary dysentery, gastroenteritis and cholera. If properly diagnosed and treated, none of these diseases are fatal. Some, including typhoid and cholera, can be prevented through the use of vaccines.
Viruses are not as common as bacterial infections due to the fact that a virus cannot multiply outside a host, but they still pose a potential threat. Some of the most common wastewater-related viruses are hepatitis A, polio and viral gastroenteritis. Hepatitis and polio are both potentially fatal conditions, but both can be easily prevented with early vaccination.
The two most common types of parasite found in septic systems are protozoans and parasitic worms. Protozoans can cause mild to severe diarrhoea as well as a disease known as amoebic dysentery. Common varieties of parasitic worm include tapeworms and roundworms. If left undiagnosed or untreated, parasites can prove fatal by weakening the host's immune system and leaving the person susceptible to more serious illnesses.
The easiest way to prevent the spread of any wastewater-related disease is to properly maintain the septic systems that foster them. All septic systems should be regularly inspected to ensure that they are functioning properly and that there is no leakage. Surface water should always be directed away from septic systems as a precaution to prevent crossflow. Also, vehicles and machinery should never be driven or placed over septic tanks. The weight could damage the tank without leaving any visible indication.
In the event that there has already been groundwater contamination, the simplest way to prevent the spread of disease is through immunisation. Many wastewater-related viruses have vaccines available, such as polio and hepatitis. Some diseases caused by bacteria also have vaccines, though many do not. Patients who have never been vaccinated or who are suffering from a bacterial infection that has no vaccine can often make use of antibiotics instead. Unfortunately some illnesses, usually viruses, have no easy treatment and must simply be allowed to run their course.