Faecal Contamination

Pollution of rivers, lakes, dams and other bodies of water is one of the most severe environmental problems in South Africa.

Faecal bacteria can cause pollution of drinking water sources and present a risk to human health. Human and animal stool may pollute ground and surface water, including streams, rivers, lakes and water used to irrigate crops. Although public water systems use chlorine to bacteria and viruses in water disease outbreaks like typhoid fever, cholera, legionnaire’s disease, bloody diarrhoea with abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, headaches, fever, fatigue have been linked to contaminated municipal water supplies.


Most healthy adults recover from these diseases within weeks. Some people — particularly young children and older adults — may develop a life-threatening form of kidney failure called haemolytic uremic syndrome. Bathing and drinking waters are often affected by localised diffuse sources of faecal contamination from untreated water pumped back into our rivers by municipal treatment plants, urban and highway drainage. By the government’s own admission, 56% of the country’s 1,150 treatment plants are ‘in poor or in critical condition’. In addition, uncontaminated surface water runoff can become contaminated by misconnected drains from households and businesses as well as background faecal contamination from birds, wildlife and pets.

Most Common Municipal Water Contaminants

Water contamination from human and animal faecal waste

Contaminant Potential health effects
Campylobacter  (bacteria) Diarrhoea (often bloody), fever, stomach cramps, nausea and vomiting,  irritable bowel syndrome, temporary paralysis, and arthritis – can spread from one person to another
Fecal coliform and E. coli (bacteria) Diarrhoea, vomiting, cramps, nausea, headaches, fever, fatigue
Norovirus (virus) Vomiting, diarrhoea, nausea, stomach pain, fever, headache, body aches
Cryptosporidium (parasite) Diarrhoea, dehydration, fever, anorexia, and weight loss.
Giardia lamblia (parasite) Diarrhoea, vomiting, cramps
Hepatitis A (virus) A very contagious virus, effects the liver – cause fatigue, nausea, stomach pain, and Jaundice
Salmonella (bacteria) Typhoid fever, nausea, vomiting, diarrhoea, fever, headache, abdominal cramps, and loss of appetite
Shigella (bacteria) Fever, bloody diarrhoea with abdominal cramps and nausea or vomiting
Vibrio cholerae (bacteria) Cholera – vomiting, stomach ulcer, severe dehydration, rapid diarrhoea and sometimes, it ends with death
Legionella (bacteria ) Legionnaire’s Disease – fever, chills, headache, and muscle pain