Sensitive populations: Who is at the greatest risk?

Charles P. Gerba, Joan B. Rose, Charles N. Haas

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

291 Scopus citations


The purpose of this article was to review the existing literature to define those groups of individuals who would be at the greatest risk of serious illness and mortality from water and foodborne enteric microorganisms. This group was found to include the very young, the elderly, pregnant women, and the immunocompromised. This segment of the population currently represents almost 20% of the population in the United States and is expected to increase significantly by the beginning of the next century, because of increases in life-span and the number of immunocompromised individuals. More than half of documented deaths from gastroenteritis and hepatitis A illness occur in the elderly in developed countries. The overall case fatality ratio for foodborne bacterial gastroenteritis outbreaks in nursing homes is 10 times greater than the general population. Pregnant mothers suffer from a case fatality ratio from hepatitis E infections ten times greater than the general population during waterborne disease outbreaks. Enteric diseases are most common and devastating among the immunocompromised. Cryptosporidium is a serious problem among patients with acquired immuno-deficiency syndrome (AIDS). Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy and transplant patients, are also at significantly greater risk of dying from enteric viral infections than the general population. This review indicates the need for consideration of enhanced protection for certain segments of the population who will suffer the most from food and waterborne pathogens.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)113-123
Number of pages11
JournalInternational Journal of Food Microbiology
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - Jun 1996


  • Elderly
  • Enteric viruses
  • Foodborne
  • Immunocompromised
  • Risk assessment
  • Sensitive populations
  • Waterborne

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Food Science
  • Microbiology


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