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MMWR Surveill Summ. 2011 Sep 23;60(12):1-32.

Surveillance for waterborne disease outbreaks and other health events associated with recreational water --- United States, 2007--2008.

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Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases, National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, CDC, Atlanta, GA 30333, USA.

Erratum in

  • MMWR Surveill Summ. 2011 Oct 14;60(40):1395.



Since 1978, CDC, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists have collaborated on the Waterborne Disease and Outbreak Surveillance System (WBDOSS) for collecting and reporting data on waterborne disease outbreaks associated with recreational water. This surveillance system is the primary source of data concerning the scope and health effects of waterborne disease outbreaks in the United States. In addition, data are collected on other select recreational water--associated health events, including pool chemical--associated health events and single cases of Vibrio wound infection and primary amebic meningoencephalitis (PAM).


Data presented summarize recreational water--associated outbreaks and other health events that occurred during January 2007--December 2008. Previously unreported data on outbreaks that have occurred since 1978 also are presented.


The WBDOSS database includes data on outbreaks associated with recreational water, drinking water, water not intended for drinking (excluding recreational water), and water use of unknown intent. Public health agencies in the states, the District of Columbia, U.S. territories, and Freely Associated States are primarily responsible for detecting and investigating waterborne disease outbreaks and voluntarily reporting them to CDC using a standard form. Only data on outbreaks associated with recreational water are summarized in this report. Data on other recreational water--associated health events reported to CDC, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) also are summarized.


A total of 134 recreational water--associated outbreaks were reported by 38 states and Puerto Rico for 2007--2008. These outbreaks resulted in at least 13,966 cases. The median outbreak size was 11 cases (range: 2--5,697 cases). A total of 116 (86.6%) outbreaks were associated with treated recreational water (e.g., pools and interactive fountains) and resulted in 13,480 (96.5%) cases. Of the 134 outbreaks, 81 (60.4%) were outbreaks of acute gastrointestinal illness (AGI); 24 (17.9%) were outbreaks of dermatologic illnesses, conditions, or symptoms; and 17 (12.7%) were outbreaks of acute respiratory illness. Outbreaks of AGI resulted in 12,477 (89.3%) cases. The etiology was laboratory-confirmed for 105 (78.4%) of the 134 outbreaks. Of the 105 outbreaks with a laboratory-confirmed etiology, 68 (64.8%) were caused by parasites, 22 (21.0%) by bacteria, five (4.8%) by viruses, nine (8.6%) by chemicals or toxins, and one (1.0%) by multiple etiology types. Cryptosporidium was confirmed as the etiologic agent of 60 (44.8%) of 134 outbreaks, resulting in 12,154 (87.0%) cases; 58 (96.7%) of these outbreaks, resulting in a total of 12,137 (99.9%) cases, were associated with treated recreational water. A total of 32 pool chemical--associated health events that occurred in a public or residential setting were reported to WBDOSS by Maryland and Michigan. These events resulted in 48 cases of illness or injury; 26 (81.3%) events could be attributed at least partially to chemical handling errors (e.g., mixing incompatible chemicals). ATSDR's Hazardous Substance Emergency Events Surveillance System received 92 reports of hazardous substance events that occurred at aquatic facilities. More than half of these events (55 [59.8%]) involved injured persons; the most frequently reported primary contributing factor was human error. Estimates based on CPSC's National Electronic Injury Surveillance System (NEISS) data indicate that 4,574 (95% confidence interval [CI]: 2,703--6,446) emergency department (ED) visits attributable to pool chemical--associated injuries occurred in 2008; the most frequent diagnosis was poisoning (1,784 ED visits [95% CI: 585--2,984]). NEISS data indicate that pool chemical--associated health events occur frequently in residential settings. A total of 236 Vibrio wound infections were reported to be associated with recreational water exposure; 36 (48.6%) of the 74 hospitalized vibriosis patients and six (66.7%) of the nine vibriosis patients who died had V. vulnificus infections. Eight fatal cases of PAM occurred after exposure to warm untreated freshwater.


The 134 recreational water--associated outbreaks reported for 2007--2008 represent a substantial increase over the 78 outbreaks reported for 2005--2006 and the largest number of outbreaks ever reported to WBDOSS for a 2-year period. Outbreaks, especially the largest ones, were most frequently associated with treated recreational water and characterized by AGI. Cryptosporidium remains the leading etiologic agent. Pool chemical--associated health events occur frequently but are preventable. Data on other select recreational water--associated health events further elucidate the epidemiology of U.S. waterborne disease by highlighting less frequently implicated types of recreational water (e.g., oceans) and detected types of recreational water--associated illness (i.e., not AGI).


CDC uses waterborne disease outbreak surveillance data to 1) identify the types of etiologic agents, recreational water venues, and settings associated with waterborne disease outbreaks; 2) evaluate the adequacy of regulations and public awareness activities to promote healthy and safe swimming; and 3) establish public health priorities to improve prevention efforts, guidelines, and regulations at the local, state, and federal levels.

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