Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – August 9th, 2004

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

Recent flooding in Bangladesh has spawned an outbreak of water-borne diseases resulting in the deaths of nine people from diarrheal illness. According to statistics provided by the International Centre for Diarrhoeal Disease Research, Bangladesh, at least 7,464 people reported cases of diarrhea within a 24-hour period following the flooding. Since July 12th, diarrheal cases have totaled 67,718.

Floodwaters that have been contaminated with untreated effluent from damaged sewerage systems have created the public health crisis, prompting Bangladeshi authorities to intensify their efforts to drain flooded areas. Nearly 5,000 government and non-government medical teams have been dispatched to treat the flood victims.

Adding to the public health emergency is the reported difficulty that health workers are having in reaching affected people in remote areas with adequate medical treatment to combat the spread of disease. Additionally, a shortage of water purifying tablets has prompted government officials to allow several pharmaceutical companies to produce these tablets to meet the current demand.

A bipartisan group of U.S. senators and House of Representative members have recently introduced legislation to create a federal water technology program designed to address the issue of regional droughts. The “Department of Energy National Laboratory Water Technology Research and Development Act of 2004” seeks to expand and coordinate water technology research across the country and improve water quality and quantity in regions susceptible to drought conditions.

The bill calls for the formation of a partnership between the Department of Energy national laboratory system and universities to design and deploy technologies that would provide more clean water for residential, commercial, industrial and natural resource use nationwide. Under the proposal, an annual appropriation of $200 million would be authorized for basic and applied research and development of water supply technologies.

Fresh produce, normally a healthy summertime staple, may instead increasingly be the unhealthy host of pathogens that trigger food-borne diseases. Experts say that more and more fruits and vegetables are being eaten raw or cooked lightly, meaning salmonella, cyclospora, shigella, E. coli and other pathogens are often not killed before being consumed.

Health officials report that germs are often spread from the unwashed hands of food workers and, generally, are not removed from produce by simple washing. As a result, Food and Drug Administration officials are reviewing whether to tighten fruit and vegetable standards. A major roadblock to this food safety measure, however, is that current international and federal laws do not allow the U.S. to set stiffer safety guidelines on imported produce than are currently imposed upon domestic fruits and vegetables.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC), an estimated 76 million Americans contract food-borne illnesses each year. CDC approximates that there are 325,000 hospitalizations and 5,000 deaths related to food-borne diseases annually, with the most severe cases occurring in the very old, the very young and those who have an illness that reduces their immune system function. Currently, the CDC is actively monitoring food-borne illnesses in nine states and utilizing those figures to establish national estimates.

For further information about food-borne illness, please see the CDC information page at:
http://www.cdc.gov/health/foodill.htm

August 9, 2004
Thousands Suffer Effects of Waterborne Disease in Wake of Bangladesh Flood
Technology Program Aims to Improve Water Quantity, Quality
Fresh Produce – The New Frontier in Food-Borne Disease Prevention
EPA and DHS Accepting Proposals for Research on Microbial Risk Assessment
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) are seeking grant applications to fund a research center on microbial risk assessment. One grant of up to $10 million will be awarded to establish the “Cooperative Center of Excellence on Microbial Risk Assessment,” which is designed to support homeland security objectives.

The new center will address critical data gaps that hamper the completion of credible microbial risk assessments necessary for decontamination. Definitive microbial risk assessments are needed by government agencies to quickly ascertain and communicate potential risks for high-priority biological threat agents such as anthrax, smallpox, botulism, plague, viral hemorrhagic fever and tularemia.

The grant will be managed by the EPA at the National Center for Environmental Research. Institutions of higher education and non-profits located in the U.S., as well as tribal, state and local governments are eligible to apply.

For additional information from the EPA regarding microbials, please go to:
http://www.epa.gov/safewater/mdbp/mdbp.html

In The News-is a bi-weekly, online service from the Water Quality & Health Council.  The publication is updated every other Friday and can be viewed by logging onto www.waterandhealth.org.  To receive the publication via e-mail, please click here and enter your e-mail address to join our mailing list.

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