Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – April 1st, 2005

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

April 1, 2005

CDC Issues Health Surveillance Data on U.S. E. coli Outbreaks

According to health surveillance data recorded by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) 350 outbreaks of E. coli O157:H7 infection were reported in the United States from 1982 – 2002. These outbreaks resulted in 8,598 cases of E. coli infection in 49 states during that time period. It is estimated that the reported cases are only a small fraction of the estimated outbreaks that occur. CDC data also revealed that the number of reported E. coli outbreaks began to rise in 1993, peaking in 2000 with 46 reported infections.

Statistically, the transmission routes for 52 percent of the outbreaks were foodborne, 6 percent recreational water, 3 percent drinking water and 21 percent were unknown. Of the foodborne cases, 41 percent were related to ground beef, while 21 percent originated with produce.

E. coli O157:H7 was first recognized as a pathogen in 1982 during an outbreak investigation of hemorrhagic colitis. Most illness has been associated with eating undercooked, contaminated ground beef, yet infections also occur after drinking raw milk and after swimming in or drinking sewage-contaminated water.

To read more about the E. coli surveillance results, please go to: ( PDF)

Report: Soap and Water Still the Best Measure Against Viruses

A new study has found that hand washing with soap and water is the most effective way to combat disease-causing viruses, according to data compiled by the University of North Carolina Health Care System and the UNC School of Public Health. The study revealed that waterless hand wipes remove only an estimated 50 percent of bacteria from a person’s hands.

The study sampled 14 different hand hygiene agents. For the study, researchers had volunteers clean their hands and then contaminate them with Serratia marcescens and MS2 bacteriophage. Scientists then instructed the volunteers to clean their hands with various agents, measuring how much bacteria and virus remained.

In addition to soap and water, anti-microbial agents were found to be effective at reducing bacteria on hands. However, alcohol-based agents were inconsistent and sometimes produced poor results, especially after multiple washes. The study also found that alcohol-based “hand rubs” were generally ineffective and needed to be used in combination with soap and water.

The findings appear in the March issue of the American Journal of Infection Control.
Kenyan Official Reports Half of Population Are Without Safe Drinking Water

Almost 50 percent of Kenya’s population of 32 million people lack access to safe drinking water and an estimated 34 percent are without basic sanitation services, according the country’s water resources minister, Martha Karau. Figures cited by the minister estimated that 12.6 million people living in rural areas and 3.3 million in urban areas of Kenya do not have access to safe drinking water.

Karau’s remarks were made in Nairobi on March 22nd as part of the commemoration of the U.N.’s World Water Day.

In accordance with the UN Millennium Development Goals, the Kenyan government has implemented efforts to make clean water available to about eight million people and improve the sanitation services of an additional 12 million people by 2015. Complicating this goal, however, are poverty levels that force an estimated 56 percent of the country’s population to live on less than one dollar a day, according to official figures.

Karau highlighted household water treatment techniques, including the use of chlorine tablets, boiling water and filtration as short-term solutions for providing Kenyans with clean water. The World Health Organization has reported that point-of-use chlorination is the most cost-effective safe water intervention evaluated to date.

China Faces Growing Water System Concerns

More than 100 Chinese cities have inadequate water supplies due to the increased pollution of lakes and aquifers, according to Chinese state media. China’s Xinhua News Agency reported that urban greenery projects such as lawns and fountains that demand large quantities of water have also contributed to the water shortage.

Experts also warn that 300 million Chinese in rural areas of the country currently lack clean drinking water due to industrial effluent, untreated sewage and runoff from agricultural chemicals that pollute a majority of the nation’s waterways. A survey conducted in January found that only 47 percent of water in China’s major rivers is drinkable, half of all lakes are heavily polluted and 35 percent of the country’s ground water is fit for human consumption.

In an effort to improve the drinking water supply in rural areas, Chinese officials have implemented a five-year $2.1 billion program. The program is projected to have already ensured safe water for 57 million people.

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