Home » Tap Water Linked to Fatal Bacterial Outbreaks, CDC Sends a Nationwide Alert

Tap Water Linked to Fatal Bacterial Outbreaks, CDC Sends a Nationwide Alert

by Richard A Reagan

A concerning surge in deadly bacterial infections linked to tap water has prompted a stern warning from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), urging Americans to reevaluate the safety of their water sources. [Source]

Between 2015 and 2020, 214 enteric disease outbreaks were reported, implicating pathogens like E. coli, campylobacter, and shigella, leading to more than 2,000 cases of illness. [Source]

Astonishingly, 80% of these outbreaks were tied to public water systems, according to CDC data analyzed from 28 states. Legionella, the bacteria responsible for the potentially fatal Legionnaires’ disease, emerged as the most significant culprit behind these outbreaks.

The rise in waterborne diseases, coupled with the detection of “forever chemicals,” microplastics, and toxic contaminants such as arsenic, lead, and more, prompts a pressing question: Is tap water safe to drink?

According to Dr. Linda Yancey, director of infection prevention at Houston’s Memorial Hermann Health System, “Typically, water in the U.S. is ‘very safe.’ We have one of the most advanced water systems in the world, but untreated tap water is not the best choice for some.”

The hazards extend beyond drinking water. Yancey advises against using tap water in devices like neti pots, CPAP machines, and humidifiers, where water bypasses the body’s natural defenses, potentially leading to serious infections.

“In CPAP machines and humidifiers, the water goes directly into the lungs and can cause pneumonia. For nasal irrigation, there is a small risk of an amebic infection because the water comes into contact with nerves that go straight to the brain,” Yancey elaborated.

Instances of fatal infections underscore the risks. A Florida resident tragically died from a rare “brain-eating” infection after using unboiled tap water for nasal irrigation.

Furthermore, the CDC’s analysis revealed that legionella was predominantly linked to public water systems, resulting in 184 outbreaks, 786 illnesses, 544 hospitalizations, and 86 deaths from 2015 to 2020. 

Legionella spreads through aerosols from contaminated water sources, including showers, faucets, air conditioning units, and more. The disease it causes, Legionnaires’, can be fatal, with about one in 10 infected individuals succumbing to the illness. The risk of death escalates when contracted in a hospital setting.

Addressing water safety, the CDC report explains the need for improved surveillance and public health capacity to detect and respond to waterborne disease threats.

Measures like boiling water for one minute or using water filters according to the manufacturer’s instructions are recommended to mitigate risk. Reporting any changes in water quality and ensuring household plumbing is in good condition are additional steps individuals can take to safeguard their health.

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