Epidemic campylobacteriosis associated with a community water supply

Am J Public Health. 1986 Apr;76(4):424-8. doi: 10.2105/ajph.76.4.424.


In May 1983, an estimated 865 cases of epidemic gastrointestinal disease occurred in Greenville, Florida. Surveillance of pharmacy sales of antidiarrheal medicines suggested that the outbreak was confined to Greenville and its immediate vicinity. Surveys demonstrated that the gastrointestinal illness attack rates inside and outside the city limits were 56 per cent (72/128) and 9 per cent (7/77), respectively (relative risk (RR) = 6.2); consumption of city water was associated with illness (RR = 12); and as water consumption increased, the attack rate also increased (p less than 0.001). Four adults were hospitalized and one outbreak-related case of Guillain-Barre' syndrome was identified. Campylobacter jejuni was isolated from specimens from 11 ill persons; serologic studies showed the development of Campylobacter-specific antibodies. Fecal coliforms were found in water samples, but Campylobacter was not recovered from water. The city water plant, a deep well system, had numerous deficiencies including an unlicensed operator, a failure of chlorination, and open-top treatment towers. Birds were observed perching on the open-top treatment tower. Of 38 birds trapped seven weeks later, 37 per cent harbored C. jejuni; however, plasmid and serotyping studies showed that strains were not the same as the common strain from ill persons. This outbreak suggests that water systems that are unprotected from contact with birds may become contaminated and a source of outbreaks of human campylobacteriosis.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Aged
  • Animals
  • Birds / microbiology
  • Campylobacter Infections / epidemiology*
  • Campylobacter Infections / etiology
  • Campylobacter fetus / isolation & purification
  • Disease Outbreaks / epidemiology*
  • Epidemiologic Methods
  • Female
  • Florida
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Gastrointestinal Diseases / etiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Medical Records
  • Middle Aged
  • Water Microbiology
  • Water Supply*