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Environ Health Perspect. 2001 May;109 Suppl 2:211-21.

Climate variability and change in the United States: potential impacts on water- and foodborne diseases caused by microbiologic agents.

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  • 1Department of Marine Sciences, University of South Florida, St. Petersburg, Florida, USA.


Exposure to waterborne and foodborne pathogens can occur via drinking water (associated with fecal contamination), seafood (due to natural microbial hazards, toxins, or wastewater disposal) or fresh produce (irrigated or processed with contaminated water). Weather influences the transport and dissemination of these microbial agents via rainfall and runoff and the survival and/or growth through such factors as temperature. Federal and state laws and regulatory programs protect much of the U.S. population from waterborne disease; however, if climate variability increases, current and future deficiencies in areas such as watershed protection, infrastructure, and storm drainage systems will probably increase the risk of contamination events. Knowledge about transport processes and the fate of microbial pollutants associated with rainfall and snowmelt is key to predicting risks from a change in weather variability. Although recent studies identified links between climate variability and occurrence of microbial agents in water, the relationships need further quantification in the context of other stresses. In the marine environment as well, there are few studies that adequately address the potential health effects of climate variability in combination with other stresses such as overfishing, introduced species, and rise in sea level. Advances in monitoring are necessary to enhance early-warning and prevention capabilities. Application of existing technologies, such as molecular fingerprinting to track contaminant sources or satellite remote sensing to detect coastal algal blooms, could be expanded. This assessment recommends incorporating a range of future scenarios of improvement plans for current deficiencies in the public health infrastructure to achieve more realistic risk assessments.

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