Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – March 26th, 2007

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

March 26, 2007

WQ&HC’s Rose Presents Great Lakes Water Quality Research

WQ&HC member and Homer Nowlin Chair of Water Research at Michigan State University Joan Rose, PhD discussed her recent water quality research at the American Association for the Advancement of Science’s (AAAS) annual meeting. In her presentation “Drinking Water and Health: Forecasting Pathogen Risks in the Great Lakes,” Dr. Rose discussed the increasing difficulty of separating drinking water and sewage, leading to a variety of illnesses and public health threats from contact with pathogens including Campylobacter, Giardia, Salmonella and noroviruses.

Dr. Rose’s Great Lakes Basin project is part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) effort to develop a means of forecasting water quality problems for lakes, rivers and streams. The ability to identify drinking water contamination scenarios in the early stages will help prevent health threats and possible disease outbreaks before they occur.

According to Dr. Rose, the safety of drinking water systems is challenged by aging water treatment infrastructure that can be overwhelmed by unpredictable weather conditions and heavy rainfall. Without appropriate barriers in place, the resulting flooding and overflow produces a dangerous mixing of sewage with source water for drinking water systems. The result of this can lead to potential human consumption of sewage-contaminated water and possible waterborne illness episodes.

Findings of the NOAA study suggest that more emphasis needs to be paid to watershed protection for the Great Lakes region water resources system, in place of the current focus on water treatment that can be overwhelmed by catastrophic weather events and the presence of treatment-resistant contaminants.

To view a PowerPoint presentation by Dr. Rose on the Great Lakes Basin project, please go to:
Water Quality and Health: The Great Lakes Basin

Experts Discuss Hospital-Acquired Infection Crisis

Hospital-associated infections (HAIs) affect more than two million Americans every year, causing 100,000 deaths and costing the nation’s healthcare system $30.5 billion, according to Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths (RID) founder Dr. Betsy McCaughey. These statistics were reported to an audience of New York-area hospital officials and infection control professionals at a seminar sponsored by RID and the North Shore-Long Island Jewish Hospital. Participants discussed the latest data on infections acquired in healthcare settings and offered potential actions to address these challenges.

According the infection experts, there are a variety of pathways for HAI-producing pathogens to enter the healthcare setting. However, enforcement of a few best practices routines and procedures will help eliminate many infection episodes. These measures include:

* screening high-risk patients;
* proper medical equipment disinfection practices;
* employee education on hand hygiene regimes;
* surgeon-specific infection rate monitoring;
* notification and isolation techniques to control Clostridium difficile: and
* participation in national infection awareness and education campaigns

Dr. McCaughey provided information on cost-effective measures to curb the rapid rise in methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA), one of the deadliest germs responsible for hospital infection. The prescribed actions include simple patient screening programs and consistent enforcement of staff and equipment hygiene procedures.

University of Pittsburgh Legionella expert Janet E. Stout, Ph.D. presented “Lessons Learned from Legionella.” Dr. Stout conducted a tour of hospital water systems, including faucets and showers, ice machines, cooling towers, humidifiers and even decorative fountains, to demonstrate where biofilm, Legionella and other harmful microorganisms reside. The point to remember, according to Dr. Stout: “If you have it in your water, you’re going to have it in your patients,”

For an article by WQ&HC member Barbara Soule, RN, MPA, CIC on HAIs and the prevention role played by chlorinated disinfection products, please go to:

FDA Releases New Fresh-Cut Produce Guidelines

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) released voluntary guidelines for companies that process fresh-cut fruits and vegetables. The guidelines focus on reducing risks of microbial contamination, urging processors to institute risk-based food safety programs based on the agency’s Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Point (HACCP) model used by other food industry segments. The measures are the first FDA recommendations made specifically for the fresh-cut produce industry.

According to the FDA, fresh-cut fruits and vegetables are the fastest-growing sector in the produce industry. Since 1996, they have been linked to 25% of the reported foodborne illness outbreaks. The food safety risk is generally attributed to the high degree of handling involved in harvesting, processing and packaging involved with fresh-cut produce.

The “Guide to Minimize Microbial Food Safety Hazards of Fresh-cut Fruits and Vegetables” addresses five main guidance areas:

* Worker health and hygiene
* Training
* Buildings and equipment
* Sanitation operations
* Production and processing controls.

The non-binding federal recommendations also provide suggested protocols on recordkeeping, recalls and product trace-backs.

For information on the FDA’s new fresh-cut fruits and vegetables guidance, please go to:

U.N. Water Scarcity Warning Marks World Water Day

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon marked the occasion of World Water Day on March 22 with a call for more international cooperation on cross-border water resource management. Focusing on this year’s theme “Coping with Water Scarcity”, the Secretary-General highlighted current U.N. data showing that 700 million people in 43 countries are subject to insufficient water supplies. By 2025 this figure will increase by 3 billion people, according to U.N. estimates.

Soaring population growth, poor resource management practices, pollution and inadequate investment in infrastructure are among the chief factors affecting water scarcity across the globe. In his address, the Secretary-General appealed to nations to join in preserving and protecting drinking water resources, citing that many of the world’s rivers and aquifers are shared among countries.

Public health experts have also stressed the effect that climate change could have on global drinking water supplies. With the increased potential for less predictable and more severe weather patterns, more incidents of flooding and drought could occur affecting the availability of fresh water supplies. Increased flooding could also lead to more outbreaks of infectious disease, including cholera, typhoid, malaria and dengue fever.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 1.6 million people die every year due to a lack safe water and sanitation – 90 per cent are children under five years old, generally in developing countries.

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