Infections Linked to Swimming, Drinking Water: CDC

THURSDAY Sept. 22, 2011 -- There were 134 waterborne disease outbreaks associated with swimming pools and other recreational water in the United States in 2007-08, and 36 outbreaks associated with drinking water, according to two federal reports released Thursday.

The 134 recreational water illness outbreaks that occurred between January 2007 and December 2008 occurred in 38 states and Puerto Rico, caused at least 13,966 cases of illness, and was the highest number of such outbreaks ever reported in a two-year period.

The number of recreational water illness outbreaks -- which include outbreaks linked to swimming pools, rivers, lakes and ocean water -- increased by 72 percent between 2005-06 and 2007-08, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Sixty (45 percent) of the outbreaks in 2007-08 were caused by cryptosporidium, a parasite that's extremely resistant to chlorine. Reversing the growing number of recreational water illness outbreaks will require improvements in swimming pool disinfection and operation, stronger pool regulations and enforcement, and better swimmer hygiene, the CDC said.

The agency outlined a number of ways to prevent recreational water illness outbreaks:

  • Don't swim when you have diarrhea. The illness-causing germs can spread in the water and make other people sick.
  • Avoid getting pool water in your mouth.
  • Shower with soap before swimming and wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers. This will help prevent germs on your body from getting into the water.

The analysis of national data also found more than 4,000 cases of illnesses and injuries occur each year due to chemicals in private and public pools. Good chemical-handling practices can prevent these problems, the CDC said.

The CDC also said eight fatal cases of primary amebic meningoencephalitis -- rare and deadly brain infection -- occurred in the United States in 2007-08. The infection is caused by the freshwater ameba Naegleria fowleri. All the cases were caused by exposure to untreated warm fresh water in ponds and lakes, the agency said.

The second report said 36 waterborne disease outbreaks associated with drinking water occurred in 23 states and Puerto Rico between January 2007 and December 2008. The outbreaks caused 4,128 illnesses and three deaths.

More than half of these outbreaks were caused by untreated or inadequately treated groundwater, which suggests that groundwater contamination remains an important public health issue, the CDC said.

The outbreaks were caused by bacteria, viruses, parasites and chemicals. One-third of the drinking water-related outbreaks were caused by legionella, a bacteria that can cause severe breathing problems and is responsible for between 8,000 to 18,000 hospitalizations in the United States each year.

More information

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has more about water.

Posted: September 2011


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