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06/28/24 Public Health Education Topic: Waterborne Disease


Although we enjoy safe drinking and recreational water in the United States, waterborne diseases still pose a threat to our health and productivity. Water contaminated with germs, chemicals, or toxins can lead to waterborne illness if you drink it, breathe it in, or it touches your skin, eyes, ears, or other mucous membranes. By collecting data on the types of water, water systems, settings, and agents (what spreads the disease) that are linked to waterborne illness, we improve our understanding of waterborne illnesses and can better guide prevention efforts.

Outbreak investigations help us learn more about the causes of outbreaks. Officials can learn what germs are causing waterborne illness, what types of water are involved, and what groups of people become ill. This knowledge can be used to control an outbreak and prevent additional illnesses. Outbreak surveillance enables public health agencies to learn lessons from these investigations to develop recommendations on how to prevent similar outbreaks from happening in the future.

Waterborne disease outbreak definition:

For an event to be defined as a waterborne disease outbreak

  • Two or more people must be linked epidemiologically by time, location of exposure to water, and type of illness, and

  • This epidemiologic evidence must implicate water as the probable source of illness.

  • Environmental evidence implicating water as the source of infection (for example, water samples testing positive for germs) can strengthen evidence in a public health investigation, but the investigation must find an epidemiologic link between the illnesses and water for an event to be considered a waterborne disease outbreak.

Water-Related or Waterborne Nationally Notifiable Diseases

*Vector or insect-borne diseases associated with water

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