Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – March 28th, 2003

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

March 28th, 2003

Global Public Health Community Hones in on SARS Virus and Treatment

Doctors continue research to find a treatment for severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). This week, scientists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found evidence that a previously unknown version of a virus that normally causes the common cold may be behind SARS. On March 24, Dr. Yeoh Eng-kiong, Hong Kong’s Secretary of Health, Welfare and Food, said that many of the patients treated with a combination of ribavarin and steroids had shown some improvement. Reports from 13 countries compiled on March 24 tallied a cumulative total of 456 cases of SARS and 17 deaths, with 39 cases in 18 U.S. states. A World Health Organization (WHO) team of experts in epidemiology, microbiology, virology and respiratory diseases arrived in Beijing on March 23 and will investigate possible links between the current SARS outbreak and an outbreak of atypical pneumonia that began in China in mid-November. As of this writing, since the rapid identification and isolation of cases appears to be containing international spread, the WHO does not believe that restrictions on travel are required.

Additional information about SARS is available at:

3rd World Water Forum Concludes

Last week, global water policy experts met at the 3rd World Water Forum in Kyoto, Japan in an effort to develop plans to provide safe drinking water to the world. Attended by 24,000 participants from 182 countries, the Forum included over 350 sessions on 38 interlocking themes concerning safe water and sanitation. At the close of the Forum, the Organizing Committee issued a preliminary Forum Statement reaffirming its commitment to the goals set forth at the 2000 Millennium Summit of the United Nations – to cut in half the proportion of people without access to safe water and sanitation by 2015. To that end, the Organizing Committee announced that more than 100 global and regional commitments were announced in Kyoto, ranging from infrastructure funding, capacity building, flood mitigation and monitoring.

For more information, please visit:

FDA Issues New Security Guidance to Protect Food Supply

On March 19, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) issued four guidance documents designed to help manufacturers minimize the risk of tampering or other criminal or terrorist actions related to the nation’s food supply. The agency also announced increased surveillance of domestic and imported foods, as well as enhanced collaboration with other government agencies. These efforts are a component of the Department of Homeland Security’s “Operation Liberty Shield,” a national plan to increase protections for U.S. citizens and the country’s infrastructure, while maintaining the free flow of goods and people across the nation’s borders. “The guidance documents…cover each segment of food and cosmetic operations, focusing on practical steps that will improve safety and security,” said Mark B. McClellan, M.D., Ph.D., FDA Commissioner of Food and Drugs. “In conjunction with increased surveillance of domestic and imported foods for biological and chemical agents of terrorism, these steps represent a new level of commitment at FDA to keep the food supply secure.”

For more information, please visit: or

Water Quality & Health Council Issues Tap Water Storage Guidance

In the wake of recent terrorist alerts announced by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the Water Quality & Health Council released important tips for storing water to help families and individuals prepare for emergency situations. While many individuals purchase bottled or distilled water during times of crises, another viable option for securing a supply of safe water is the storage of tap water for future use. Based on information received from the DHS, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the American Red Cross, the Council’s tips include:

* Store at least one gallon of water per person, per day in a cool, dark place.
* Choose appropriate containers (e.g., clear food-grade plastic containers) for water storage and disinfect them before use if necessary.
* If necessary, treat water with a chlorine bleach solution prior to storage to prevent buildup of harmful bacteria or pathogens and replace water every six months.

To review all of the tips, please visit:

Senators Push for Increase in Water Funding

Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-VT), ranking member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, sent a letter signed by 33 senators to the Senate Budget Committee asking for funding to be increased to at least a $5.2 billion for fiscal year 2004 to help local communities meet water quality standards. The letter requests $3.2 billion for the Clean Water State Revolving Fund (SRF) and $2 billion for the Drinking Water SRF. In May 2002, the Congressional Budget Office released a report that estimated the spending gap for clean water needs between $132 billion and $388 billion over 20 years and the spending gap for drinking water needs at between $70 billion and $362 billion over 20 years. On September 30, 2002, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) released a Clean Water and Drinking Water Infrastructure Gap Analysis which found that there will be a $535 billion gap between current spending and projected needs for water and wastewater infrastructure over the next 20 years if additional investments are not made.

More information is available at:

Study Finds Best Methods to Prevent Bacillus atrophaeus Contamination

A study published in the March 12, 2003 issue of JAMA determined that handwashing with soap and water, 2 percent chlorhexidine gluconate or chlorine-containing towels reduces the amount of Bacillus atrophaeus (a surrogate of Bacillus anthracis) spore contamination. The study also concluded that using a waterless rub containing ethyl alcohol was not effective in removing spores. The study, conducted by David J. Weber, MD, MPH; Emily Sickbert-Bennett, MS; Maria F. Gergen MT (ASCP); and William A. Rutala, PhD, MPH, tested the AvagardD waterless rub, Bactoshield’s 2 percent chlohexidine gluconate, Clorox Co.’s antibacterial microfiber towel and Soft ‘N Sure’s nonantimicrobial soap. The researchers observed that using hand hygiene agents that proved effective against Bacillus atrophaeus, along with the proper use of gloves, would decrease the risk of acquiring anthrax. Public health officials note that hand-washing with soap (whether antimicrobial or not) and water remains the gold standard for preventing disease transmission.

An abstract of the study is available online at:

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 To receive the publication via e-mail, please click here and enter your e-mail address to join our mailing list.

Subscribe to receive the weekly "Water Quality & Health Council Perspectives"