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Norovirus Outbreak Caused by a New Septic System in a Dolomite Aquifer

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Errata

This article is corrected by:

  1. Errata: Erratum/ Volume 49, Issue 3, 309, Article first published online: 25 April 2011

Marshfield Clinic Research Foundation, Marshfield, WI 54449; (715) 389-3758; fax: (715) 389-4996; borchardt.mark@mcrf.mfldclin.edu

Abstract

Septic systems that are built in compliance with regulations are generally not expected to be the cause of groundwater borne disease outbreaks, especially in areas with thick vadose zones. However, this case study demonstrates that a disease outbreak can occur in such a setting and outlines the combination of epidemiological, microbiological, and hydrogeological methods used to confirm the source of the outbreak. In early June 2007, 229 patrons and employees of a new restaurant in northeastern Wisconsin were affected by acute gastroenteritis; 6 people were hospitalized. Epidemiological case-control analysis indicated that drinking the restaurant's well water was associated with illness (odds ratio = 3.2, 95% confidence interval = 0.9 to 11.4, P = 0.06). Microbiological analysis (quantitative reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction) measured 50 genomic copies per liter of norovirus genogroup I in the well water. Nucleotide sequencing determined the genotype as GI.2 and further showed the identical virus was present in patrons' stool specimens and in the septic tank. Tracer tests using dyes injected at two points in the septic system showed that effluent was traveling from the tanks (through a leaking fitting) and infiltration field to the well in 6 and 15 d, respectively. The restaurant septic system and well (85-m deep, in a fractured dolomite aquifer) both conformed to state building codes. The early arrival of dye in the well, which was 188 m from the septic field and located beneath a 35-m thick vadose zone, demonstrates that in highly vulnerable hydrogeological settings, compliance with regulations may not provide adequate protection from fecal pathogens.

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