Diseases spread by water are caused by pathogens transmitted through fecal–oral routes that cause gastrointestinal illnesses, and by environmental pathogens transmitted through contact, inhalation, or other routes, resulting in illnesses affecting other body systems. We selected 13 pathogens or syndromes implicated in waterborne disease outbreaks or other well-documented waterborne transmission (acute otitis externa, Campylobacter, Cryptosporidium, Escherichia coli (E. coli), free-living ameba, Giardia, Hepatitis A virus, Legionella (Legionnaires' disease), nontuberculous mycobacteria (NTM), Pseudomonas-related pneumonia or septicemia, Salmonella, Shigella, and Vibrio). We documented annual numbers of deaths in the United States associated with these infections using a combination of death certificate data, nationally representative hospital discharge data, and disease-specific surveillance systems (2003–2009). We documented 6,939 annual total deaths associated with the 13 infections; of these, 493 (7%) were caused by seven pathogens transmitted by the fecal–oral route. A total of 6,301 deaths (91%) were associated with infections from Pseudomonas, NTM, and Legionella, environmental pathogens that grow in water system biofilms. Biofilm-associated pathogens can cause illness following inhalation of aerosols or contact with contaminated water. These findings suggest that most mortality from these 13 selected infections in the United States does not result from classical fecal–oral transmission but rather from other transmission routes.
- First received 8 December 2016.
- Accepted in revised form 3 February 2017.
- © US Government 2017