Surveillance for waterborne-disease outbreaks associated with drinking water--United States, 2001-2002.

Brian G. Blackburn, Gunther F. Craun, Jonathan S. Yoder, Vincent Hill, Rebecca L. Calderon, Nora Chen, Sherline H. Lee, Deborah A. Levy, Michael J. Beach

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

163 Scopus citations


PROBLEM/CONDITION: Since 1971, CDC, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists have maintained a collaborative surveillance system for collecting and periodically reporting data related to occurrences and causes of waterborne-disease outbreaks (WBDOs). This surveillance system is the primary source of data concerning the scope and effects of waterborne disease outbreaks on persons in the United States. REPORTING PERIOD COVERED: This summary includes data on WBDOs associated with drinking water that occurred during January 2001-December 2002 and on three previously unreported outbreaks that occurred during 2000. DESCRIPTION OF SYSTEM: Public health departments in the states, territories, localities, and the Freely Associated States are primarily responsible for detecting and investigating WBDOs and voluntarily reporting them to CDC on a standard form. The surveillance system includes data for outbreaks associated with both drinking water and recreational water; only outbreaks associated with drinking water are reported in this summary. RESULTS: During 2001-2002, a total of 31 WBDOs associated with drinking water were reported by 19 states. These 31 outbreaks caused illness among an estimated 1,020 persons and were linked to seven deaths. The microbe or chemical that caused the outbreak was identified for 24 (77.4%) of the 31 outbreaks. Of the 24 identified outbreaks, 19 (79.2%) were associated with pathogens, and five (20.8%) were associated with acute chemical poisonings. Five outbreaks were caused by norovirus, five by parasites, and three by non-Legionella bacteria. All seven outbreaks involving acute gastrointestinal illness of unknown etiology were suspected of having an infectious cause. For the first time, this MMWR Surveillance Summary includes drinking water-associated outbreaks of Legionnaires disease (LD); six outbreaks of LD occurred during 2001-2002. Of the 25 non-Legionella associated outbreaks, 23 (92.0%) were reported in systems that used groundwater sources; nine (39.1%) of these 23 groundwater outbreaks were associated with private noncommunity wells that were not regulated by EPA. INTERPRETATION: The number of drinking water-associated outbreaks decreased from 39 during 1999-2000 to 31 during 2001-2002. Two (8.0%) outbreaks associated with surface water occurred during 2001-2002; neither was associated with consumption of untreated water. The number of outbreaks associated with groundwater sources decreased from 28 during 1999-2000 to 23 during 2001-2002; however, the proportion of such outbreaks increased from 73.7% to 92.0%. The number of outbreaks associated with untreated groundwater decreased from 17 (44.7%) during 1999-2000 to 10 (40.0%) during 2001-2002. Outbreaks associated with private, unregulated wells remained relatively stable, although more outbreaks involving private, treated wells were reported during 2001-2002. Because the only groundwater systems that are required to disinfect their water supplies are public systems under the influence of surface water, these findings support EPA's development of a groundwater rule that specifies when corrective action (including disinfection) is required. PUBLIC HEALTH ACTION: CDC and EPA use surveillance data 1) to identify the types of water systems, their deficiencies, and the etiologic agents associated with outbreaks and 2) to evaluate the adequacy of technologies for providing safe drinking water. Surveillance data are used also to establish research priorities, which can lead to improved water-quality regulations. CDC and EPA recently completed epidemiologic studies that assess the level of waterborne illness attributable to municipal drinking water in nonoutbreak conditions. The decrease in outbreaks in surface water systems is attributable primarily to implementation of provisions of EPA rules enacted since the late 1980s. Rules under development by EPA are expected to protect the public further from microbial contaminants while addressing risk tradeoffs of disinfection byproducts in drinking water.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)23-45
Number of pages23
JournalMMWR. Surveillance summaries : Morbidity and mortality weekly report. Surveillance summaries / CDC
Issue number8
StatePublished - Oct 22 2004
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Epidemiology
  • Health(social science)
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
  • Health Information Management


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