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Professor Reynolds Reviews the CDC Report on Drinking Water Outbreak Causes

Associate Professor, Environmental Health Sciences
Kelly Reynolds, PhD, MSPH

In September, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention published a review of the causes of waterborne disease outbreaks associated with drinking water and other non-recreational water sources. Kelly Reynolds, PhD, associate professor and environmental microbiologist at the University of Arizona’s Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health, reviews the report in the October issue of Water Conditioning & Purification.

The report covers the time period of January 2009 to December 2010. During the two-year survey period, a total of 33 outbreaks associated with drinking water were reported from 17 states, resulting in 1,040 cases of illness, 85 hospitalizations (8.2 percent of cases) and nine deaths. The majority (58 percent) of outbreaks were due to Legionella followed by 12 percent from Campylobacter – both bacterial pathogens. Other etiological agents listed in the recent outbreak database include Parasites and Viruses.

Water supply deficiencies linked to 2009-2010 outbreaks were primarily identified as Legionella in plumbing systems. Other identified causes were from drinking untreated groundwater and distribution deficiencies.

Given that a majority of the recent drinking water outbreaks were caused by bacteria in untreated water supplies or in the distribution system post-treatment, Dr. Reynolds said most or all could have been prevented by the proper use of a Point-of-Use treatment device designed to remove bacteria.

Although the recent CDC surveillance summary was released following a two-to-three year lag period, Dr. Reynolds says the reports provide valuable insights into trends associated with waterborne outbreaks and can help the drinking water treatment and purification industry identify current and future needs.

Dr. Reynolds is WC&P’s Public Health Editor and a former member of the Technical Review Committee.

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