Water- and food-borne diseases cause significant morbidity in the U.S., manifesting in a range of diseases, especially gastroenteritis.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that each year about 1 in 6 Americans (totaling 48 million people) gets sick, 128,000 are hospitalized, and 3,000 die of food-borne diseases.
These diseases are typically due to pathogens from sewage contamination or that thrive naturally in the environment. These include noroviruses, responsible for more than half the cases of food/water-borne disease, bacteria such as Salmonella, E. coli O157:H7, Campylobacter, and Staphylococcus aureus, and parasites such as Cryptosporidium and Girardia.
Bacteria that live naturally in ocean and brackish waters (Vibrio spp.) typically cause disease associated with consumption of shellfish, such as oysters. Additionally, drinking water-associated disease outbreaks cause illness in > 4000 persons annually, while recreational water–associated outbreaks result in roughly 14,000 cases annually. Beyond natural outbreaks loom threats to food and water safety associated with biosecurity and climate change.
The University of Georgia has taken a leadership role nationally in the control of food- and water-borne disease through the Center for Food Safety, where researchers work directly with the food industry and federal agencies to preserve the safety of the food we consume.
Other areas of emphasis at the University of Georgia include the development of methods for rapid and sensitive detection of pathogens in food and water, pathogen carriage and antibiotic resistance in the microbial communities of poultry, and through the Odum School of Ecology and the School of Marine Programs, the ecology of pathogenic organisms in coastal and other natural waters.