Working Around Sewage – What Vaccinations Should You Have?

Talk to your healthcare advisor about the heightened risk pumpers have for contracting several infectious diseases

Working Around Sewage – What Vaccinations Should You Have?

Septic service professionals frequently encounter wastewater splashing and other contact with disease-causing pathogens. Discuss the need for preventive vaccinations with your doctor and crew.

Interested in Safety?

Get Safety articles, news and videos right in your inbox! Sign up now.

Safety + Get Alerts

Workers who handle human waste or sewage are at an increased risk of becoming ill from waterborne diseases. Pathogenic bacteria have the potential to cause diseases such as Salmonella, shigellosis, typhoid fever, cholera, paratyphoid, bacillary dysentery and anthrax. Viruses can cause polio and infectious hepatitis. Internal parasites can cause amoebic dysentery, Ascaris (giant ringworm) and giardiasis.

Exposure can occur through the skin, eyes, or mouth; through open cuts or scrapes; or with contact from splashing or back splashing of liquid from any of the open elements of a tank or treatment component. To reduce this risk and protect against illness, care should be taken when working around wastewater and the correct personal protective equipment worn. But you should also consult with your doctor to determine which of the following vaccinations is appropriate for you, your employees and your family members. 

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, employers should develop vaccination recommendations for workers exposed to sewage or human waste in consultation with local health authorities. Below are vaccinations to consider:

1. Tetanus is an infection caused by Clostridium tetani bacteria. When entering your body, this bacterium releases a toxin that causes painful muscle contractions. It is sometimes referred to as lockjaw as it causes a person’s neck and jaw to lock making it hard to open the mouth or swallow. Tetanus does not spread from person to person or through wastewater. The bacteria are usually found in soil, dust and manure, and enter the body through breaks in the skin — usually cuts or puncture wounds caused by contaminated objects. Tetanus vaccinations typically start when you are a baby with boosters throughout your life. Once you are an adult the recommendation is to get a follow-up shot every 10 years.

2. Hepatitis means inflammation of the liver and when the liver is inflamed or damaged, its function can be affected. Three types of hepatitis that can be caused by a virus:

Hepatitis A is usually a short-term infection and does not become chronic. In recent years there have been multiple outbreaks and the number of people infected has been increasing in the United States. Hepatitis A can affect anyone and the virus is found in the stool and blood of those who are infected.

Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C can also begin as short-term, acute infections, but in some people, the virus remains in the body, resulting in chronic disease and long-term liver problems. The viruses can cause lifelong infection, cirrhosis (scarring) of the liver, liver cancer, liver failure, and death. Hepatitis B is spread when blood, semen or other body fluids — even in microscopic amounts — from an infected person enters the body of someone who is not infected. Hepatitis C is spread through contact with blood from an infected person.

There are two types of hepatitis vaccinations. The first type, the single-dose hepatitis A vaccine, is given as two shots, 6 months apart, and both shots are needed for long-term protection against hepatitis A. The other type is a combination vaccine that protects people against both hepatitis A and hepatitis B. The combination vaccine can be given to anyone 18 years of age and older and is given as three shots over 6 months. All three shots are needed for long-term protection for both hepatitis A and hepatitis B.

3. Polio is a disabling and potentially deadly disease caused by the poliovirus. The virus spreads from person to person and can infect the spinal cord, causing paralysis. It is present in the stool and throat of infected people. Most adults in the United States were vaccinated as children and are therefore likely to be protected from getting polio. There are areas of the U.S. with low polio vaccination coverage; a case was reported in 2022 in New York, so there is still the risk of getting polio if you are not vaccinated. 

4. Typhoid fever is an illness caused by the bacterium Salmonella typhi. It infects your small intestines (gut) and causes high fever, stomach pain and other symptoms. The harmful bacteria is found in the stool of infected people and if food or drink has been contaminated with feces. Typhoid fever is most common in rural areas of developing countries where there isn’t modern sanitation therefore vaccination is not commonly recommended in the U.S. but is recommended if you are traveling to countries that have typhoid fever outbreaks such as southern Asia and parts of Africa, the Caribbean, Central and South America, and the Middle East.

The next time you visit your doctor, check on the status of your vaccinations and discuss if you could benefit from getting further vaccinations based on your contact with wastewater as a pumping professional. Encourage your employees to do the same to reduce the likelihood of getting a job-related illness.


Comments on this site are submitted by users and are not endorsed by nor do they reflect the views or opinions of COLE Publishing, Inc. Comments are moderated before being posted.