Since 1971, CDC, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists have maintained a collaborative surveillance system for collecting and periodically reporting data related to occurrences and causes of waterborne-disease outbreaks (WBDOs) related to drinking water; tabulation of recreational water-associated outbreaks was added to the surveillance system in 1978. This surveillance system is the primary source of data concerning the scope and effects of waterborne disease outbreaks on persons in the United States.
This summary includes data on WBDOs associated with recreational water that occurred during January 2001-December 2002 and on a previously unreported outbreak that occurred during 1998.
Public health departments in the states, territories, localities, and the Freely Associated States are primarily responsible for detecting and investigating WBDOs and voluntarily reporting them to CDC on a standard form. The surveillance system includes data for outbreaks associated with both drinking water and recreational water; only outbreaks associated with recreational water are reported in this summary.
During 2001-2002, a total of 65 WBDOs associated with recreational water were reported by 23 states. These 65 outbreaks caused illness among an estimated 2,536 persons; 61 persons were hospitalized, eight of whom died. This is the largest number of recreational water-associated outbreaks to occur since reporting began in 1978; the number of recreational water-associated outbreaks has increased significantly during this period (p<0.01). Of these 65 outbreaks, 30 (46.2%) involved gastroenteritis. The etiologic agent was identified in 23 (76.7%) of these 30 outbreaks; 18 (60.0%) of the 30 were associated with swimming or wading pools. Eight (12.3%) of the 65 recreational water-associated disease outbreaks were attributed to single cases of primary amebic meningoencephalitis caused by Naegleria fowleri; all eight cases were fatal and were associated with swimming in a lake (n = seven; 87.5%) or river (n = one; 12.5%). Of the 65 outbreaks, 21 (32.3%) involved dermatitis; 20 (95.2%) of these 21 outbreaks were associated with spas or pools. In addition, one outbreak of Pontiac fever associated with a spa was reported to CDC. Four (6.1%) of the 65 outbreaks involved acute respiratory illness associated with chemical exposure at pools.
The 30 outbreaks involving gastroenteritis comprised the largest proportion of recreational water-associated outbreaks during this reporting period. These outbreaks were associated most frequently with Cryptosporidium (50.0%) in treated water venues and with toxigenic Escherichia coli (25.0%) and norovirus (25.0%) in freshwater venues. The increase in the number of outbreaks since 1993 could reflect improved surveillance and reporting at the local and state level, a true increase in the number of WBDOs, or a combination of these factors.
CDC uses surveillance data to identify the etiologic agents, types of aquatics venues, water-treatment systems, and deficiencies associated with outbreaks and to evaluate the adequacy of efforts (e.g., regulations and public awareness activities) for providing safe recreational water. Surveillance data are also used to establish public health prevention priorities, which might lead to improved water-quality regulations at the local, state, and federal levels.