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Effectiveness of the Hydrogen Sulfide Test as a Water Quality Indicator for Diarrhea Risk in Rural Bangladesh.


Microbiological water quality is usually assessed by the identification of Escherichia coli (E. coli), a fecal indicator. The hydrogen sulfide (H2S) test is an inexpensive, easy-to-use, and portable alternative field-based water quality test. Our study evaluated the H2S test's effectiveness as a water quality indicator for diarrhea risk. Field workers collected stored drinking water samples for H2S analysis and detection of E. coli by membrane filtration and measured caregiver-reported diarrhea among children < 5 years in the same households 1 month later. We assessed the association between the H2S test (incubated for 24 hours and 48 hours) and diarrhea prevalence, with 2-day and 7-day symptom recall periods (N = 1,348). We determined the sensitivity, specificity, and positive and negative predictive value (PPV, NPV) of the H2S test compared with E. coli (N = 525). Controlling for potentially confounding covariates, H2S-positive water (at 24 or 48 hours) was not associated with 2-day diarrhea prevalence (24-hour prevalence ratio [PR] = 1.03, 95% confidence interval [CI]: 0.63-1.69; 48-hour PR = 0.89, 95% CI: 0.58-1.38) or 7-day diarrhea prevalence (24-hour PR = 1.17, 95% CI: 0.76-1.78; 48-hour PR = 1.21, 95% CI: 0.81-1.80). The sensitivity, PPV, and NPV of the H2S test was significantly higher when the H2S test was incubated for 48 versus 24 hours whereas specificity showed the opposite trend. H2S test sensitivity, PPV, and NPV increased with increasing E. coli levels, consistent with previous evidence that the H2S test is a useful water quality tool in high-contamination settings. However, our results suggest that the H2S test is not an effective indicator for waterborne diarrhea.

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