A new report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declares a new and challenging front in the ongoing war on waterborne disease. Overall, however, the news from the battlefield is encouraging.
Issued on Dec. 16, the CDC report estimates that waterborne pathogens cause more than 7.5 million illnesses annually. That’s a startling figure. But it’s important to note that that 65% of those illnesses (4.6 million) are cases of swimmer’s ear. Another 19% are norovirus infections (1.3 million), which typically arise from contaminated food or water, but rarely directly from water at the tap.
CDC stresses that the United States “has one of the safest drinking water supplies in the world” and notes that “in the United States, outbreaks associated with large public drinking water systems have sharply declined in the past 40 years, likely the result of improvements in regulation and operation.”
Today, a different kind of threat is coming into focus. The new front in the water war has less to do with drinking, and more to do with water we inhale. The new foes are bio-film related pathogens, which can grow inside building water system pipes, in cooling towers, and other parts of human-constructed environments. When water is stagnant over a period of time, these pathogens proliferate and can become dangerous as they escape into the atmosphere and are inhaled. The most famous of these is Legionella, which causes Legionnaire’s disease and can be deadly for older citizens, smokers and immuno-compromised individuals.
Three biofilm-associated pathogens (nontuberculous mycobacteria, Legionella, and Pseudomonas) cause the majority of hospitalizations and more than 90% of the 6,500 estimated deaths related to waterborne disease.
Water utilities and building managers can help reduce risks associated with these pathogens, but it’s worth paying attention to CDC’s advice on how to protect yourself in the home from waterborne germs. Those steps include:
- Flushing your faucets and showerheads if they have not been used recently
- Cleaning, disinfecting, and maintaining all devices that use water
- Communicating with your water utility
- Keeping private water sources safe
Learn more here.