Literature Review of Associations among Attributes of Reported Drinking Water Disease Outbreaks

Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2016 May 27;13(6):527. doi: 10.3390/ijerph13060527.


Waterborne disease outbreaks attributed to various pathogens and drinking water system characteristics have adversely affected public health worldwide throughout recorded history. Data from drinking water disease outbreak (DWDO) reports of widely varying breadth and depth were synthesized to investigate associations between outbreak attributes and human health impacts. Among 1519 outbreaks described in 475 sources identified during review of the primarily peer-reviewed, English language literature, most occurred in the U.S., the U.K. and Canada (in descending order). The outbreaks are most frequently associated with pathogens of unknown etiology, groundwater and untreated systems, and catchment realm-associated deficiencies (i.e., contamination events). Relative frequencies of outbreaks by various attributes are comparable with those within other DWDO reviews, with water system size and treatment type likely driving most of the (often statistically-significant at p < 0.05) differences in outbreak frequency, case count and attack rate. Temporal analysis suggests that while implementation of surface (drinking) water management policies is associated with decreased disease burden, further strengthening of related policies is needed to address the remaining burden attributed to catchment and distribution realm-associated deficiencies and to groundwater viral and disinfection-only system outbreaks.

Keywords: attack rate; case count; drinking water supply; outbreak; water system deficiency; waterborne disease.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Drinking Water / microbiology*
  • Humans
  • Water Microbiology*
  • Water Pollution
  • Water Supply / standards*


  • Drinking Water