Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – January 10th, 2005

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

January 10, 2005

Lack of Clean Water May Lead to Disease Outbreaks in Tsunami Aftermath

The World Health Organization is reporting the possibility of large-scale disease outbreaks in the wake of the devastating tsunami that decimated portions of South and Southeast Asia on December 26th. According to global health officials, the already ravaged region is extremely vulnerable to disease outbreaks as a result of damaged water and sanitation systems, seawater contamination of drinking water supplies and crowded living conditions. The combination of these public health dangers is considered a recipe for outbreaks of life-threatening diseases such as cholera, typhoid, dengue fever and dysentery, as well as some forms of hepatitis.

WHO advises that the most practical and effective strategy to prevent disease outbreak is to immediately provide clean water in adequate quantities and adequate sanitation. Sufficient soap and hygiene education will of both diseases. To avert the transmission of disease, WHO is supporting public health education efforts focusing on the following:

* Promotion of good hygienic practice;
* Safe food preparation techniques;
* Ensure boiling or chlorination of water; and
* Availability of an adequate supply of soap for individual use

While a number of disease transmission scenarios have been identified, WHO reports one of the primary concerns is the introduction of fecal bacteria into public water supplies triggering rapidly spreading waterborne illnesses. The pathogens are easily transmissible to humans when hands are not washed during food preparation or before meal consumption. Public health authorities have expressed concern that tsunami survivors retrieving water from rivers and lakes that were used for bathing and human waste removal could exacerbate the spread of disease.

For updated news and information from the World Health Organization on the aftermath of the tsunami, please go to
Listeria Food Poisoning Cases Rose in 2003

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released a report detailing that incidents of listeriosis in 2003. Listeriosis is a serious infection caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes. According to the study there were 3.3 cases of listeriosis for every 1 million people in 2003, compared with 2.7 cases per million in 2002. An estimated 2,500 cases of Listeria-related food poisoning occur annually, with 20 percent of victims dying. Data for 2004 is not yet available.

Generally associated with hot dogs, deli meats and soft cheeses, Listeria spreads easily and can exist for weeks or months in refrigerators. The general guidelines recommended for the prevention of listeriosis are similar to those used to help prevent other foodborne illnesses, such as salmonellosis.

Interim regulations established by the Bush administration have come under criticism for allowing businesses to dictate when testing of listeria occurs rather than mandated oversight by the federal government.

The consumer group, Consumer Federation of America, said the administration stalled and then changed regulations aimed at curbing the sometimes-deadly infection, leading to the increase in cases.

For additional information regarding listeria, please go to:
Two Federal Agencies Sign Watershed Management Agreement

A collaborative watershed partnership to balance the demands on the nations critical water resources has been announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Water and the U.S. Army’s Office of the Assistant Secretary of the Army for Civil Works. The effort will be targeted at flood control, navigation, recreation and infrastructure and environmental stewardship.

According to the newly established agreement, the two government offices will seek to:

* Facilitate sustainable economic development
* Protect and restore activities at the national, regional and local watershed level
* Streamline the communication among stakeholders and parties of interest
* Upgrade the exchange of pertinent data and promote innovative programs regarding water resource and watershed management

To read more about the Army Corps of Engineers water mitigation programs, please go to:

Canadian E. coli Outbreak Offenders Sentenced

The owners of a water system that became contaminated with E. coli bacteria in southern Ontario, Canada in 2000 were sentenced in late December for their role in one of Canada’s worst public health disasters. Stan Koebel, the former manager of a town’s utilities commission, was jailed for one year, while his brother, foreman Frank Koebel, was sentenced to nine months of house arrest for their involvement in the outbreak. The two brothers were found guilty of faking water reports and did not initially disclose water problems to local officials. The deadly public health disaster resulted in seven deaths and 2,300 people becoming ill.

Flooding in May 2000 washed cattle manure into a town well causing the outbreak. Shortly after, people began to get diarrhea, nausea and additional symptoms related to E. coli. In response, residents were required to boil their tap water for almost seven months.

For additional information about E. coli, please go to:

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