February 25, 2020

Outbreaks Associated with Drinking Water in the U.S.

Those of us in the United States tend to think of illnesses caused by drinking water as a third world problem. But believe it or not, people in the United States are getting sick after consuming water from public treated systems. The MMWR news synopsis for September 5, 2013 reports that  contamination of untreated ground water in public water systems and private wells, Legionella in building plumbing systems, and deficiencies in the public drinking water infrastructure are all causes of illness.

Water in SinkThe number of outbreaks in the federally regulated portions of public water systems has declined. But when these outbreaks occur, they sicken many people because so many use water from the tap. During 2009-2010, the latest year for which finalized numbers are available, there were 33 drinking-water outbreaks reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), sickening 1,040 people, hospitalizing 85, and causing nine deaths.

Legionella caused 58% of the outbreaks and 7% of the illnesses, and Campylobacter accounted for 12% of the outbreaks and 78% of the illnesses. The most commonly identified deficiencies were Legionella in plumbing systems at 57.6%, untreated ground water, at 24.2%, and public water distribution system deficiencies at 12.1%. The report recommends that efforts to identify and correct these deficiencies should be undertaken, and more research is needed to understand the interventions that control growth of Legionella bacteria.

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