Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – April 21st, 2006

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

April 21, 2006

CDC Reports Continued Decline in Foodborne Illness

According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) FoodNet surveillance system, incidents of major foodborne diseases in the U.S. has continued a gradual downturn from levels measured in the late 1990s. As in recent years, Salmonella infections were the most common foodborne illness, followed by Campylobacter cases. Shigella, Cryptosporidium, and E. coli infections filled out the rest of the five slots.

FoodNet data, which covers all or parts of 10 states with about 15% of the US population, shows that cases of most major foodborne diseases last year varied little from 2004. The 2005 results were first reported in the April 14th issue of CDC’s Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.

The CDC assesses trends in foodborne illness by comparing each year’s figures with data from 1996 through 1998, the first 3 years of the FoodNet surveillance program. FoodNet identified a total of 16,614 laboratory-confirmed foodborne infections in 2005 with Salmonella accounting for 6,471 cases, about 39% of the total. Campylobacter cases made up approximately 34% of the total. In 2005, the CDC reported 2,078 Shigella cases, 1,313 Cryptosporidium cases and 473 cases of Shiga toxin-producing E coli (STEC) O157. The remaining cases included Yersinia, STEC non-O157, Listeria, Vibrio, and Cyclospora.

According to the CDC, a significant increase in Cryptosporidium cases in 2005 was due to a large outbreak at a water park in New York State last year. “In the News” reported on the Crypto outbreak at Sprayground in Geneva, New York in the September 9, 2005 issue.

To read the complete CDC report, please go to:

For more information on the CDC FoodNet system, please go to:

U.S. Pandemic Flu Plan to Be Introduced

Prompted by the emergence and rapid spread of the H5N1 virus strain, the Bush Administration is expected to approve a national pandemic influenza response plan that identifies more than 300 specific tasks for federal agencies in the event of a pandemic outbreak. The proposal is designed to help the nation’s basic governmental infrastructure remain functional during what is anticipated to be an 18-month crisis that could kill up to 1.9 million Americans.

Although it has primarily affected bird populations, roughly 200 people worldwide have reportedly contracted the H5N1 virus — half of those infected have died.

In an effort to upgrade and accelerate current public health preparedness, the multi-agency federal action plan includes the following:

* The Department of Veterans Affairs has developed a drive-through medical exam protocol to quickly assess patients who suspect they have been infected.

* The Agriculture Department has made bulk purchases of masks, gloves and hand sanitizers, hired extra on-staff nurses and compiled a list of retired employees who could be temporarily rehired to keep the agency up and running

* The Commerce Department has identified several priorities, including the ability to assign emergency communication frequencies, and how to run those operations with 60 percent of its normal staff.

Much of the federal government’s pandemic flu response plan relies on quick distribution of medications. Yet with the U.S. population set to reach the 300 million mark in September of this year, it is reported that the Strategic National Stockpile currently has 5.1 million courses of the anti-viral Tamiflu on hand. The goal is to secure 21 million doses of Tamiflu and 4 million doses of the similar pharmaceutical, Relenza, by the end of 2006, and a total of 51 million doses by late 2008.

To read more about avian flu and U.S. government planning efforts, please go to:

Michigan Targets Invasive Species Regulations

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) is developing a first-ever clean water general permit to address aquatic invasive species in ballast water discharges from ships crossing Michigan waterways. Michigan is the latest in a growing number of states and environmental group attempting to limit the spread of the species.

As defined by the federal government, “invasive species” are alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.

Michigan’s attorney general Mike Cox has been joined by attorneys general in other states in the region to support litigation by environmentalists calling for an EPA regulation governing invasive species contained in ballast water discharges. The legal action cites concerns that the ballast water can contain species, such as zebra mussels, that foul discharge and water intake pipes. The U.S. Coast Guard currently implements the National Invasive Species Act of 1996. Under its open water exchange program, the Coast Guard urges ships to empty their ballast tanks while at sea to avoid the discharge of potentially contaminated ballast water in U.S. waters. However, the exchange program is not enforceable.

According to a draft version of the state’s general permit, ships must either treat their ballast water to kill any invasive species or agree not to discharge any ballast water in state waters in order to operate in Michigan ports. The Michigan DEQ identifies three ballast water treatment methods in the draft plan that are deemed adequate to prevent the discharge of invasive species: hypochlorite and chlorine dioxide as ballast water biocides; ultraviolet radiation; and deoxygenation.

The Michigan DEQ permit is set for proposal early this summer. Minnesota, Wisconsin and Indiana are also considering similar invasive species legislation and permitting programs.

For more information about invasive species from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, please go to:

Bird Flu From Your Swimming Pool? WQ&HC Responds

The New York Times recently devoted its “Ask Science” column to questions they have received regarding avian (bird) flu concerns. Among the submissions was a question as to whether the feces of migrating ducks introduced into an apartment complex swimming pool was cause for public health alarm. Simply put – Can wild bird dropping in a public pool be the source of H5N1 related infection?

Water Quality & Health Council chair, Dr. Joan Rose addressed this basic public health concern in the following response to the column:

As a microbiologist focused on issues of waterborne disease, I cannot stress enough the importance of maintaining clean recreational waters, whatever the latest health concern may be. While all reported human infections of avian flu have been associated with domesticated rather than wild birds, feces from wild birds can introduce Salmonella, Campylobacter and other pathogens into public waters, transmitting diseases through human exposure.

So what to do? Common sense, as always, is our best defense.

Data from the World Health Organization suggests that avian flu, like most viruses, is readily inactivated by chlorine. Therefore, proper pool maintenance and chlorination is our first and best protection. The Water Quality & Health Council supports a campaign called “Healthy Pools” that promotes proper sanitation and back-to-basics personal hygiene practices to create a healthful swimming environment.

Additionally, it is always smart to attack a public health concern at its roots. Migrating ducks simply do not belong in a swimming pool. Some creative prevention methods, such as introducing bright colored floating objects into the pool to ward off these unwanted visitors, may help.

For more information on avoiding waterborne disease and maintaining a healthy swimming pool, please visit the Water Quality & Health Council’s Healthy Pools web site 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.

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