Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – May 13, 2002

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

May 13, 2002

School Food Illnesses Climb Over Past Decade

A report issued last week by the General Accounting Office (GAO) found that school food illnesses rose by an average of ten percent each year between 1990 and 1999, the last year data was available. An estimated 16,000 school children suffered foodborne illnesses in 1999. Most cases involved salmonella bacteria contamination, which can cause vomiting, diarrhea and fever. The GAO reported that most food illnesses at schools were a result of poor food storage, handling or serving practices. The GAO, the investigative arm for the U.S. Congress, urged “the creation of a single food safety agency with new legislative authority.” Currently, food safety oversight is handled by many different federal agencies, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Food and Drug Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

To read the GAO report, visit ( PDF)

Increased Water Intake Lowers Risk of Heart Disease

The American Journal of Epidemiology (Vol. 155, No.9) will soon publish a study out of the Loma Linda University (Loma Linda, CA) finding that elevated water consumption helps prevent heart disease. While regular exercise and a healthy diet are still recommended, increased water consumption is a new preventative measure, according to the researchers. The study encourages people to drink at least five glasses of plain water a day to lower the risk of heart disease. In 1999, nearly 530,000 Americans died from coronary heart disease.

To view the study’s abstract, visit: To read the University’s press release, visit

Study Finds that Showering Elevates Trihalomethane Concentrations

A recent University of North Carolina (UNC) study found that trihalomethanes (THMs), byproducts of chlorine used in water disinfection, increase significantly in the bloodstream after showering. The UNC research team, led by Philip C. Singer and Amy M. Miles, reported that THM concentrations were about 1,000 times lower in blood than in tap water, but after showers, median levels in blood increased by a factor of four. The researchers could not address, however, whether the concentrations were harmful or were linked to any particular health problem. Miles stated, “Chlorination of tap water was one of the most important improvements made in public health, and it saves countless lives each year by reducing risk from bacterial contamination. Waterborne diseases used to be a major cause of death and illness, and they still are in some parts of the world without chlorination.” However, Miles cautioned that despite the benefits of chlorination, the issue needs to be studied further if the practice creates its own lesser risks. Future UNC studies will examine various THM exposures more closely, including those caused by inhaling the compounds from air inside houses.

To read a description of the study, visit

WHO Announces New AIDS Initiatives

The World Health Organization (WHO) recently released new guidelines describing the best drug “cocktails” and the simplest acceptable laboratory tests for HIV/AIDS patients. In addition, to encourage price competition between patented and generic drugs, the WHO urged generic drug-makers to increase their production of three-drugs-in-one pill combinations. Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, the director-general of the WHO, noted that these actions are “vital steps in the battle against the AIDS pandemic and should encourage both industrialized and developing country governments to make H.I.V. treatment more widely available.” The guidelines are designed to educate doctors in poor areas on how to safely prescribe “triple-therapy cocktails,” precise combinations of drugs as opposed to just one pill at a time. The U.S. witnessed a 70 percent drop in AIDS deaths following the introduction of triple-therapy cocktails in 1996. There are an estimated 40 million HIV-positive people worldwide. The WHO estimates that, of those 40 million, six million need antiretroviral drugs immediately, but only five percent are able to gain access to or afford the treatment.

To see the latest WHO initiatives in the fight against HIV/AIDS, visit

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