Objective: To report the effects of bleach use at home on the frequency of infections in 9102 school-age children participating in the HITEA project.
Methods: Parents of pupils aged 6-12 years from schools in Barcelona province (Spain), Utrecht province (the Netherlands) and Eastern and Central Finland were administered a questionnaire including questions on the frequency of infections (influenza, tonsillitis, sinusitis, otitis, bronchitis and pneumonia) in the past 12 months and bleach use at home. We developed multivariable mixed-effects multilogistic regression models to obtain relative risk ratios (RRR) and their 95% CI per country, and combined the RRR using random-effects meta-analyses.
Results: Bleach use was common in Spain (72%, n=1945) and uncommon in Finland (7%, n=279). Overall, the prevalence of infections (recurrent or once) was higher among children of bleach users. Significant combined associations were shown for influenza only once (RRR=1.20, 95% CI 1.04 to 1.38), recurrent tonsillitis (RRR=1.35, 95% CI 1.07 to 1.71) and any infection (RRR=1.18, 95% CI 1.01 to 1.38).
Conclusions: Passive exposure to cleaning bleach in the home may have adverse effects on school-age children's health by increasing the risk of respiratory and other infections. The high frequency of use of disinfecting irritant cleaning products may be of public health concern, also when exposure occurs during childhood.
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