Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – October 24, 2003

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

October 24, 2003

Increase in Legionnaires’ Disease Cases Reported in Mid-Atlantic Region

Cases of Legionnaires’ disease in Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Virginia have more than tripled in the past nine months. According to the Washington Post, a total of 178 cases have been reported so far this year, compared with 48 cases at the same time last year.

Legionnaires’ disease is spread via inhalation of mist or droplets from a contaminated water source – such as an air conditioning system, whirlpool spa, a hospital’s water system or even a grocery store mister.

Officials from the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are concerned because the newest cases aren’t following the usual pattern, in which outbreaks have been tied to a specific water source. Instead, most appear to be cases in which individuals contracted the disease from the water in their home, workplace or neighborhood, while others around them did not.

The newspaper reported that health officials speculate that the region’s rainy spring and summer may have tipped the ecological scales in favor of the naturally occurring Legionella bacteria, which causes the disease.

Generally, less than 5 percent of people exposed to Legionella bacteria get sick because their immune system usually kills it. Legionnaires’ disease infects anywhere from 8,000 to 18,000 people in the United States every year, usually those with a weakened immune system, smokers and those over 65. Symptoms include a fever, chills, cough, fatigue, and shortness of breath within two to ten days of exposure.

For additional information, please read the article at:

CDC Proposes New Guidance to Control SARS

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recently released draft recommendations for local and state health officials to prepare for and respond to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS). The CDC will gather comments over the next several weeks before finalizing the plan.

The document, “Public Health Guidance for Community-Level Preparedness and Response to Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome,” provides planning guidance, strategies and tools for public health and healthcare officials who are the first line of defense in detecting and containing a SARS outbreak. The strategies and recommendations stem from those that were used successfully to contain SARS last years and also include lessons learned from other public health emergencies.

The strategies, guidelines, and tools included in this document are designed to enable states and communities to achieve the following objectives:

* Rapidly and efficiently identify SARS cases and their exposed contacts
* Ensure rapid information exchange among clinicians, public health officials and administrators of healthcare facilities about potential SARS cases
* Rapidly and effectively implement measures to prevent the transmission of SARS-CoV
* Continuously monitor the course and characteristics of a SARS outbreak and promptly revise control strategies as needed
* Implement effective communication and education strategies for the public, the media, community officials, healthcare communities, and public health communities to ensure an appropriate response to SARS
* Coordinate and integrate SARS preparedness and response planning efforts with other preparedness plans and systems

A complete copy of the draft report is available at:

New Book Examines First Doctor to Promote Disinfection

Dr. Sherwin B. Nuland’s most recent book, The Doctors’ Plague: Germs, Childbed Fever and the Strange Story of Ignac Semmelweis, is a medical detective story that traces how Semmelweis, an obstetrician at the Vienna General Hospital in 1847, began urging his fellow doctors to wash their hands with a chlorine solution before examining women in labor. Semmelweis noticed that a high number of women who were delivering babies were dying of childbed fever. He proposed that the doctors were infecting their own patients because they went straight from dissecting cadavers to delivering babies without washing their hands. His assertion was not well received by the medical community and only after his death and the work of Louis Pasteur and Joseph Lister, was his theory validated.

Latin American Water Crisis Affects 130 Million People

Inter-American Water Day, commemorated on Oct. 4, was created to highlight the need to improve drinking water supplies in Latin America and the Caribbean. More than 130 million people in the region do not have safe drinking water in their homes. Only 86 million are connected to adequate sanitation systems, according to the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO).

PAHO’s research found that if the poorer populations of the Americas received basic drinking water and sanitation services, morbidity from diarrhea would be reduced by 17 percent every year. One of the millennium development goals, agreed to by countries in the region, is to halve the proportion of people without safe water and sanitation by the year 2015.

This year’s Inter-American Water Day is being held during the United Nation’s International Year of Fresh Water, “Water: let’s not take it for granted.” Co-sponsors of the day include the Caribbean Water and Wastewater Association, the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean, the Inter-American Association of Sanitary and Environmental Engineering, the Organization of American States, PAHO and the United Nations Environment Program’s regional office for Latin America and the Caribbean.

More information is available at:

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