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Skin-related symptoms following exposure to recreational water: a systematic review and meta-analysis

  • Author(s): Yau, Vincent;
  • Wade, Timothy J.;
  • Wilde, Carol K.;
  • Colford, John M.
  • et al.

Exposure to contaminated recreational waters (defined by levels of fecal and other types of indicator bacteria) is associated with adverse health outcomes. The principal health outcome studied previously has been gastrointestinal illness. Although many studies included reports of frequent skin complaints (e.g. rash or itch) following recreational water exposure, no systematic reviews have examined the association between indicator levels and skin-related symptoms. Twenty relevant peer-reviewed studies were identified. The relative risks (swimmers vs. non-swimmers) of skin-related symptoms among those exposed to recreational water with bacterial indicator concentrations above threshold levels were determined using meta-analysis. Similarly, the relative risks (swimmers vs. non-swimmers) of skin-related complaints after exposure to water with bacterial indicator concentrations below threshold levels were determined. The ratio of these odds ratios (ROR) was then computed for each indicator. The risk of skin-related symptoms was significantly elevated in marine water with high levels of total coliforms ROR 1.86, (95% CI 1.21, 2.87); fecal coliforms ROR 1.45 (95% CI 1.02, 2.07); E. coli ROR 1.98, (95% CI 1.43, 2.75); enterococci ROR 2.04 (95% CI 1.34, 3.09) and fecal streptococci ROR 1.70 (95% CI 1.07, 2.71). However, no significant associations with water quality indicators were demonstrated for the freshwater indicators examined (total coliform, fecal coliform, E. coli). Swimmers exposed to marine water at high levels of several indicator bacteria experience a significant increase in skin-related symptoms compared to non-swimmers. This relationship was not demonstrated in freshwater settings.

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