Most outbreaks of acute gastroenteritis in youth camps come from food, water

August 15, 2018

2 minute read

We have not been able to process your request. Please try again later. If you continue to have this problem, please contact

According to research published in the Journal of the Society for Pediatric Infectious Diseases. Outbreaks were most often linked to exposure to norovirus after food preparation or recreational water activities, the researchers said.

“Each year, more than 14 million children and adults attend more than 14,000 overnight or day camps in the United States,” Anita K. Kambhampati, MPH, ORISE Fellow at the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, and colleagues wrote. “Camps can encourage healthy lifestyles and social skills, but factors such as shared housing and activities, rural settings with limited access to municipal drinking water and sewage systems, and health education minimal campers and staff can facilitate outbreaks of communicable diseases, including those of acute gastroenteritis.

According to Kambhampati and colleagues, it is difficult to define specific exposures in summer camps that lead to acute gastroenteritis because children can be poor historians and almost everyone who attends summer camps participates in the same activities and eat the same meals. Transmission is also difficult to stop because multiple camp sessions may be taking place at the same time at the facility, and new campers may be exposed to those who have acquired an infection.

To examine acute gastroenteritis outbreaks in these settings, Kambhampati and colleagues analyzed data collected between 2009 and 2016 in the National Outbreak Reporting System. In addition, they searched the available literature for epidemics in camps located around the world and recommendations regarding the prevention and control of epidemics in a camp.

They found 229 outbreaks of acute gastroenteritis associated with youth camps reported in 39 US jurisdictions during the study period. Of these, 120 resulted from person-to-person transmission (53%). Other outbreaks reported different sources of transmission, including unknown (19%), food (17%), water (8%), contact with animals (2%) and environmental contamination (less than 1%).

When etiologies were suspected or confirmed, the most common were norovirus (63%), Salmonella species (9%) and producers of shigatoxins Escherichia coli (7%).

The researchers noted that they found 43 additional outbreaks of acute gastroenteritis in youth camps located in other countries between 1938 and 2014.

Several control measures have been included in the literature assessed by the researchers. The most commonly reported actions included closing camps, separating sick campers from healthy campers, disinfecting the camp environment, and training in food preparation and hand hygiene.

“General guidelines on food, water, and animal safety and infection control can help prevent outbreaks of acute gastroenteritis in camps,” Kambhampati and colleagues wrote, “but the combination of factors that facilitate the onset and perpetuation of these outbreaks supports the need for camp-specific recommendations, which include consideration of food preparation practices, lodging, activities and water sources at camp – by Katherine Bortz

Disclosures: The authors report no relevant financial information.

About the author