Disease clusters along waterways

Water can be an important agent in the transmission of infectious disease and exposure to toxic substances.  Routine monitoring of water quality is an important part of preventing disease and illness, particularly for acute and high exposure levels.  Over longer time frames, monitoring the health of populations who live near particular surface or groundwater water systems may augment traditional environmental surveillance.  This is particularly important in regions where there are concerns about the long-term health effects of industrial activity.

Detecting patterns of long-term illness associated with exposure to a particular water source is difficult.  Health effects can occur long after acute exposure, and chronic exposure may occur over long periods of time before manifesting as an increase risk of disease.  Furthermore, isolating the source of exposure can be difficult, particularly for rural residents who may get water from a mixture of private wells and public sources.


This project aims to develop and assess tools for detecting clusters of human disease in low population density areas related to water sources.  In the early stages, we are determining the efficacy of the cluster detection methods given anticipated levels of environmental exposure and the anticipated incidence of disease.  The approach we’re developing uses knowledge about the structure of the hydrological system to increase our ability to detect anomalously high incidence of disease.