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Extreme precipitation linked to waterborne disease outbreaks

More than half of the waterborne disease outbreaks in the United States in the past 50 years were preceded by heavy rainfall, according to a study conducted at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Such rainfall and its subsequent runoff have been assumed to be a key factor in the transport of pathogenic microorganisms, but this study represents the first quantitative analysis of the relationship between extreme precipitation and waterborne disease outbreaks at the national level and over an extended period. The results are published in the August 2001 issue of the American Journal of Public Health.

"The significance of the association between precipitation and disease is amplified when you consider the effects of global climate change, which predict an increase in precipitation in parts of the United States", says Jonathan Patz, MD, MPH, assistant professor of environmental health sciences at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and principal investigator of the study. "As the temperature rises, climatologists expect more intense rainfall events, and, as our study suggests, a potential increased risk of waterborne disease outbreaks as well."

To analyze the relationship between precipitation and waterborne diseases, the researchers used data from the United States Environmental Protection Agency of the 548 reported waterborne disease outbreaks in the United States from 1948 to 1994. A waterborne disease outbreak is defined as an incident where a drinking water source causes two or more persons to become ill at similar times.

The most common type of disease was "acute gastrointestinal illness." The data included the infectious agent, the community and state where the outbreak occurred, and the month and year of each outbreak. The outbreak source was designated as either surface water or groundwater contamination.

This data was combined with precipitation data from the National Climatic Data Cente
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Contact: Ming Tai or Tim Parsons
paffairs@jhsph.edu
410-955-6878
Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health
31-Jul-2001


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