Household Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene Practices Impact Pathogen Exposure in Remote, Rural, Unpiped Communities

Environ Eng Sci. 2021 May 1;38(5):355-366. doi: 10.1089/ees.2020.0283. Epub 2021 May 24.


Household water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) practices in remote, rural, and unpiped communities are likely to impact exposure to pathogens beyond the fecal-oral transmission routes that are typically prioritized in WASH interventions. We studied 43 homes in two remote, rural, unpiped communities in Alaska to evaluate seasonal water haul, water sources, water quality, and water reuse, as well as greywater and human waste disposal over 1 year. Hauled quantities of water reportedly ranged from 3.0 to 5.4 gallons per capita per day (gpcd) depending on the community and season. Natural, untreated water sources contributed 0.5-1.1 gpcd to household water availability. Reported quantities of water hauled were significantly correlated with total water storage capacity in the home. Total coliforms were detected in 30-60% of stored household water samples from treated and untreated sources, and total coliform counts were significantly higher in specific sources and during specific seasons. Exposure to pathogens during periods of low water access, from untreated water reuse, from greywater disposal and from human waste disposal are important pathways of disease transmission in these remote, rural, unpiped communities. We discuss intermediate steps that can be taken at the household and community levels to interrupt exposure pathways before piped infrastructure is installed. This model of examining specific household practices to determine transmission routes can be applied to other remote communities or unique conditions to aid in the recommendation of targeted WASH interventions.

Keywords: WASH; pathogen exposure; remote; rural; unpiped.