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Characteristics and related factors of waterborne and foodborne infectious disease outbreaks before and after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic (2017-2021) in the Republic of Korea: a descriptive study.

BACKGROUND: The incidence of waterborne and foodborne infectious diseases (WFIDs) continues to increase annually, attracting significant global attention. This study examined trends in WFID outbreaks in the Republic of Korea over the 5-year period before and during the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic and provided foundational data to establish measures for the prevention and control of WFID outbreaks.

METHODS: We analyzed 2,541 WFID outbreaks from 2017 to 2021 (42,805 cases) that were reported through the Integrated Disease Surveillance System of the Korea Disease Control and Prevention Agency. Outbreaks were defined as the occurrence of gastrointestinal symptoms in ≥2 individuals within a group with temporal and regional epidemiological associations. The related factors associated with WFID outbreaks during the observation period were statistically analyzed.

RESULTS: The total number of WFID outbreaks significantly decreased in 2020 during the COVID-19 pandemic and increased to the pre-pandemic level in 2021. Different patterns were observed for each pathogen. The incidence of Salmonella outbreaks more than doubled, while norovirus outbreaks decreased significantly.

CONCLUSION: WFID outbreaks in the Republic of Korea showed different patterns before and during the COVID-19 pandemic, influenced by infection control measures and changes in dietary consumption patterns. Outbreaks of some diseases increased, but the infection control measures applied during the pandemic resulted in a significant decrease in the overall number of WFID outbreaks. This highlights the importance of strengthening the management strategies for outbreak prevention through hygiene inspections, long-term monitoring, education, and promotion by conducting multidimensional analyses to understand the complex related factors.

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