MMWR Surveillance Summaries
PROBLEM/CONDITION: Since 1971, CDC and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) have maintained a collaborative surveillance system for collecting and periodically reporting data relating to occurrences and causes of waterborne-disease outbreaks (WBDOs).
REPORTING PERIOD COVERED: This summary includes data from January 1997 through December 1998 and a previously unreported outbreak in 1996.
DESCRIPTION OF THE SYSTEM: The surveillance system includes data regarding outbreaks associated with drinking water and recreational water. State, territorial, and local public health departments are primarily responsible for detecting and investigating WBDOs and voluntarily reporting them to CDC on a standard form.
RESULTS: During 1997-1998, a total of 13 states reported 17 outbreaks associated with drinking water. These outbreaks caused an estimated 2,038 persons to become ill. No deaths were reported. The microbe or chemical that caused the outbreak was identified for 12 (70.6%) of the 17 outbreaks; 15 (88.2%) were linked to groundwater sources. Thirty-two outbreaks from 18 states were attributed to recreational water exposure and affected an estimated 2,128 persons. Eighteen (56.3%) of the 32 were outbreaks of gastroenteritis, and 4 (12.5%) were single cases of primary amebic meningoencephalitis caused by Naegleria fowleri, all of which were fatal. The etiologic agent was identified for 29 (90.6%) of the 32 outbreaks, with one death associated with an Escherichia coli O157:H7 outbreak. Ten (55.6%) of the 18 gastroenteritis outbreaks were associated with treated pools or ornamental fountains. Of the eight outbreaks of dermatitis, seven (87.5%) were associated with hot tubs, pools, or springs.
INTERPRETATION: Drinking water outbreaks associated with surface water decreased from 31.8% during 1995-1996 to 11.8% during 1997-1998. This reduction could be caused by efforts by the drinking water industry (e.g., Partnership for Safe Water), efforts by public health officials to improve drinking water quality, and improved water treatment after the implementation of EPA's Surface Water Treatment Rule. In contrast, the proportion of outbreaks associated with systems supplied by a groundwater source increased from 59.1% (i.e., 13) during 1995-1996 to 88.2% (i.e., 15) during 1997-1998. Outbreaks caused by parasites increased for both drinking and recreational water. All outbreaks of gastroenteritis attributed to parasites in recreational water were caused by Cryptosporidium, 90% occurred in treated water venues (e.g., swimming pools and decorative fountains), and fecal accidents were usually suspected. The data in this surveillance summary probably underestimate the true incidence of WBDOs because not all WBDOs are recognized, investigated, and reported to CDC or EPA.
ACTIONS TAKEN: To estimate the national prevalence of waterborne disease associated with drinking water, CDC and EPA are conducting a series of epidemiologic studies to better quantify the level of waterborne disease associated with drinking water in nonoutbreak conditions. The Information Collection Rule implemented by EPA in collaboration with the drinking water industry helped quantifythe level of pathogens in surface water. Efforts by CDC to address recreational water outbreaks have included meetings with the recreational water industry, focus groups to educate parents on prevention of waterborne disease transmission in recreational water settings, and publications with guidelines for parents and pool operators.
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U.S. Government Work
Barwick, Rachel S.; Levy, Deborah A.; Craun, Gunther F.; Beach, Michael J.; and Calderon, Rebecca L., "Surveillance for Waterborne-Disease Outbreaks--United States, 1997-1998." (2000). Journal Articles: Epidemiology. 103.