Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – September 27th, 2002

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

September 27, 2002

West Nile Virus Linked to Blood Transfusions

Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that the West Nile Virus can spread via blood transfusions. The CDC suggested that the virus can survive in donated blood for several days and that some blood recipients may have been sickened by infected blood. The CDC also warned medical professionals that the virus can cause polio-like paralysis in certain cases. Soon after the announcement, U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officials stated that all blood donations will likely be screened for the virus as soon as a test can be developed. “Since this transmission by transfusion appears likely, it is likely also that we will need to move toward testing of donor blood,” said Dr. Jesse Goodman of the FDA. Through the more common exposure route from mosquitoes to humans, approximately four out of five who contract the virus show no symptoms; however, less than one percent of those affected develop the most serious complications, including inflammation of the brain. The elderly and those with weakened immune systems are the most vulnerable to adverse effects. The CDC notes that not all patients who receive tainted blood will become infected with the virus.

For more information, please visit:

Study Finds that Exposure to Germs May Reduce Incidence of Asthma

Research conducted by the Institute of Social and Preventive Medicine in Basel, Switzerland concluded that children from very clean homes may be more susceptible to developing asthma than those who grow up on farms or in homes that have some level of dirt in them. The study, published in The New England Journal of Medicine, concludes that exposure to a certain level of germs may help a child’s immune system develop a level of tolerance to environmental factors such as animal dander and pollen. The research adds to a growing body of studies that support a “hygiene hypothesis,” a theory that suggests that some childhood infections help develop a strong immune system. The current study examined over 300 children from farms and nearly 500 from non-farming homes, 6 to 13 years old, from rural parts of Austria, Germany and Switzerland.

To view the abstract of this study, please visit:

Food Supply Susceptible to Bioterror Attack, Study Warns

According to study conducted by the National Academy of Science, the U.S. is vulnerable to agricultural bioterrorism and needs a comprehensive plan to defend against it. The study warns that the U.S. cannot rapidly detect and identify many pests and pathogens and could not quickly respond to a large-scale attack. “Biological agents that could be used to harm crops or livestock are widely available and pose a major threat to U.S. agriculture,” said Harley Moon, chair of the committee that wrote the report, and professor of veterinary medicine at Iowa State University. The study was carried out at the request of the U.S. Department of Agriculture prior to the September 11 terrorist attacks. The report notes that while a bioterrorism attack on U.S. agriculture is highly unlikely to result in famine or malnutrition, it could harm people, disrupt the economy and cause widespread public concern and confusion.

For more information, please visit:

U.S. Life Expectancy at Record High

According to a new report released by the CDC, infant mortality is at a record low and life expectancy is at a record high in the United States. Health, United States, 2002, the 26th annual statistical report on the nation’s health, found that the country has gained significant ground in fighting heart disease, stroke and injuries. Among the key findings of the report, in 2000, Americans enjoyed the longest life expectancy in U.S. history – almost 77 years (74 for men and 80 for women). A century earlier, life expectancy was 48 for men and 51 for women. In addition, the infant mortality rate – deaths before the first birthday – plummeted 75 percent since 1950. It dropped to a record low of 6.9 deaths per 1,000 live births in 2000, down from 7.1 the year before. Also, more than 40 percent of adults were smokers in 1965, compared with 23 percent in 2000. Finally, infectious disease rates have declined dramatically. “Effective public health efforts, greater knowledge among Americans about healthier lifestyles and improved health care all have contributed to these steady gains in the nation’s health,” said CDC Director Julie Gerberding.

More information, including an electronic version of the report that may be downloaded, is available on the CDC Web site at:

Alarming Cases of Listeria in Pennsylvania, Health Advisory Issued

A recent surge in cases of Listeria monocytogenes in Pennsylvania prompted the FDA and the Food Safety Inspection Service (FSIS) to issue a public health advisory. For healthy individuals, symptoms of Listeria are usually short-term and include severe headache, high fever abdominal pain, stiffness, nausea and diarrhea. However, those with weakened immune systems may face critical risks. Contracting Listeria can cause miscarriages and stillbirths in pregnant women and severe infections among newborns and the elderly. The FDA and the FSIS caution those at high risk against consuming hotdogs unless steaming hot, soft cheeses, unpasteurized milk, refrigerated pâtés or meat spreads and refrigerated smoked seafood. The agencies are currently working with the CDC to identify the source of the contamination.

For more information, please visit:

EPA Announces National Water Monitoring Day

The first National Water Monitoring Day will be held on Friday, October 18th, to mark the 30th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). On that day, citizen monitors, established volunteer monitoring organizations, and federal, state, Tribal and local monitoring staff will have the opportunity to participate in a collaborative water quality sampling effort. The purpose of the day is to take a snapshot view of streams, lakes and coastal waters throughout the country. Citizen monitors – including families, classrooms, civic organizations and service clubs – can participate by sampling for four water quality parameters (Temperature, pH, Water Clarity, Dissolved Oxygen).

For more information on how to participate or to view site-specific data following the event, visit:

Special Note: Popular Food Safety Posters Available Online in Many Languages

The very popular food safety posters produced by the Water Quality & Health Council (WQ&HC), in conjunction with the Chlorine Chemistry Council and the National Restaurant Association, can now be downloaded on the WQ&HC website free of charge. The clear, colorful poster, available in English, Spanish, and Mandarin and Cantonese (the main Chinese dialects spoken in the United States), offers food surface sanitizing tips to restaurants and other food service establishments. Entitled “Good Food Starts With A Clean Kitchen,” the poster has been distributed to thousands of public health officials and restaurants around the nation.

To download the poster in any of the four available languages, please visit:

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