Reported waterborne outbreaks of gastrointestinal disease in Australia are predominantly associated with recreational exposure
Objective: To examine the frequency and circumstances of reported waterborne outbreaks of gastroenteritis in Australia. Method: Examination of data reported to OzFoodNet between 2001 and 2007. Results: During these seven years, 6,515 gastroenteritis outbreaks were reported to OzFoodNet, most of which were classified as being transmitted person-to-person or from an unknown source. Fifty-four (0.83%) outbreaks were classified as either ‘waterborne’ or ‘suspected waterborne’, of which 78% (42/54) were attributed to recreational water and 19% (10/54) to drinking water. Of the drinking water outbreaks, implicated pathogens were found on all but one occasion and included Salmonella sp. (five outbreaks), Campylobacter jejuni (three outbreaks) and Giardia (one outbreak). Conclusions: There have been few waterborne outbreaks detected in Australia, and most of those reported have been associated with recreational exposure. However, there are difficulties in identifying and categorising gastroenteritis outbreaks, as well as in obtaining microbiological and epidemiological evidence, which can result in misclassification or underestimation of water-associated events. Implications: Gastroenteritis surveillance data show that, among reported water- associated gastroenteritis outbreaks in Australia, recreational exposure is currently more common than a drinking water source. However, ongoing surveillance for waterborne outbreaks is important, especially as drought conditions may necessitate replacement of conventional drinking water supplies with alternative water sources, which could incur potential for new health risks.