Problem/condition: Since 1971, CDC and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have maintained a collaborative surveillance system for collecting and periodically reporting data that relate to occurrences and causes of waterborne-disease outbreaks (WBDOs).
Reporting period covered: This summary includes data for January 1993 through December 1994 and for previously unreported outbreaks in 1992.
Description of the system: The surveillance system includes data about outbreaks associated with water intended for drinking (i.e., drinking water) and those associated with recreational water. State, territorial, and local public health departments are primarily responsible for detecting and investigating WBDOs and voluntarily reporting them to CDC on a standard form.
Results: For the 2-year period 1993-1994, 17 states and one territory reported a total of 30 outbreaks associated with drinking water. These outbreaks caused an estimated 405,366 persons to become ill, including 403,000 from an outbreak of cryptosporidiosis in Milwaukee, the largest WBDO ever documented in the United States, and 2,366 from the other 29 outbreaks. No etiologic agent was identified for five (16.7%) of the 30 outbreaks. The protozoan parasites Giardia lamblia and Cryptosporidium parvum caused 10 (40.0%) of the 25 outbreaks for which the etiologic agent was identified. Two outbreaks of cryptosporidiosis occurred in large metropolitan areas (i.e., Milwaukee and Las Vegas/Clark County) and were associated with deaths among immunocompromised persons. The waterborne nature of these two outbreaks was not recognized until at least 2 weeks after the onset of the Milwaukee outbreak and until after the end of the Las Vegas outbreak. Campylobacter jejuni was implicated for three outbreaks and the following pathogens for one outbreak each: Shigella sonnei, Shigella flexneri, non-O1 Vibrio cholerae (in a U.S. territory; the vehicle was commercially bottled water), and Salmonella serotype Typhimurium (the outbreak was associated with seven deaths). Eight outbreaks of chemical poisoning were reported: three were caused by lead (one case each), two by fluoride, two by nitrate and one by copper. Twenty (66.7%) of the 30 outbreaks were associated with a well-water source. Fourteen states reported a total of 26 outbreaks associated with recreational water, in which an estimated 1,714 persons became ill. Fourteen (53.8%) of these 26 were outbreaks of gastroenteritis. The etiologic agent in each of these 14 outbreaks was identified; 10 (71.4%) were caused by G. lamblia or C. parvum. Six of these 10 were associated with chlorinated, filtered pool water, and three with lake water. One of the latter was the first reported outbreak of cryptosporidiosis associated with the recreational use of lake water. Four outbreaks of lake water-associated bacterial gastroenteritis were reported, two caused by S. sonnei, one by S. flexneri, and one by Escherichia coli O157:H7. Nine outbreaks of hot tub- whirlpool-, or swimming pool-associated pseudomonas dermatitis were reported. Two outbreaks of swimming pool-associated dermatitis had a suspected chemical etiology. The child who had the one reported case of primary amebic meningoencephalitis, caused by infection with Naegleria fowleri, died.
Interpretation: The number of WBDOs reported annually has been similar for each year during 1987-1994, except for an increase in 1992. Protozoan parasites, especially C. parvum and G. lamblia, remain important etiologic agents of WBDOs. The outbreaks of cryptosporidiosis in Milwaukee and Las Vegas demonstrate that WBDOs can occur in large metropolitan areas. Surveillance methods are needed that expedite the detection of WBDOs and the institution of preventive measures (e.g., boil-water advisories).
Actions taken: Surveillance data that identify the types of water systems, their deficiencies, and the etiologic agents associated with outbreaks are used to evaluate the adequacy of current technologies for prov