Gastrointestinal illness linked to incidents in drinking water distribution networks in Sweden
Journal article, 2017

During recent years, knowledge gaps on drinking water-related gastrointestinal illness have been identified, especially for non-epidemic cases. Pathogen contamination of drinking water during distribution has been suggested to contribute to these cases, but the risk factors are not yet fully understood. During 2014-2015, we conducted an epidemiological study in five municipalities in Sweden, to assess whether incidents in the drinking water distribution system influence the risk of gastrointestinal illness. Telephone interviews were conducted in the affected areas and in reference areas 7-14 days after a reported incident. Symptoms of gastrointestinal illness occurring during the period were documented for each household member. The results showed a significantly elevated risk of vomiting and acute gastrointestinal illness (AGI) in the affected areas, compared to the reference areas (ORvom. = 2.0. 95% CI: 1.2-3.3; ORAGI = 1.9, 95% CI: 1.2-3.0). Certain conditions, or risk factors, during the incidents, such as sewage and drinking water pipelines at the same level in the trench, were associated with an elevated risk of AGI and vomiting. Safety measures taken during repair work, like flushing, were also associated with an elevated risk of AGI and vomiting. These results show that incidents in the drinking water distribution network contribute to endemic gastrointestinal illness, especially AGI and vomiting, and that external pathogen contamination of the drinking water is a likely cause of these cases of gastrointestinal illness. The results also indicate that safety measures used today may not be sufficient for eliminating the risk of gastrointestinal illness. (C) 2017 The Authors. Published by Elsevier Ltd. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (

Pipe breaks

Drinking water

Water distribution

Gastrointestinal illness

Public health risks



M. Save-Soderbergh

Karolinska Institutet

National food agency, Sweden

J. Bylund

National food agency, Sweden

Annika Malm

Chalmers, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Water Environment Technology

M. Simonsson

National food agency, Sweden

J. Toljander

National food agency, Sweden

Water Research

0043-1354 (ISSN)

Vol. 122 503-511

Subject Categories

Water Engineering

Health Sciences



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