Waterborne disease statistics only begin to estimate the global burden of infectious diseases from contaminated drinking water. Diarrheal disease is dramatically underreported and etiologies seldom diagnosed. This review examines available data on waterborne disease incidence both in the United States and globally together with its limitations. The waterborne route of transmission is examined for bacterial, protozoal, and viral pathogens that either are frequently associated with drinking water (e.g., Shigella spp.), or for which there is strong evidence implicating the waterborne route of transmission (e.g., Leptospira spp.). In addition, crucial areas of research are discussed, including risks from selection of treatment-resistant pathogens, importance of environmental reservoirs, and new methodologies for pathogen-specific monitoring. To accurately assess risks from waterborne disease, it is necessary to understand pathogen distribution and survival strategies within water distribution systems and to apply methodologies that can detect not only the presence, but also the viability and infectivity of the pathogen.
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