Marine waters contaminated with domestic sewage: nonenteric illnesses associated with bather exposure in the United Kingdom

Am J Public Health. 1996 Sep;86(9):1228-34. doi: 10.2105/ajph.86.9.1228.


Objectives: This study identified possible dose-response relationships among bathers exposed to marine waters contaminated with domestic sewage and subsequent risk of nonenteric illness.

Methods: Four intervention follow-up studies were conducted within the United Kingdom. Healthy volunteers (n = 1273) were randomized into bather and nonbather groups. Intensive water-quality monitoring was used to assign five bacteriological indices of water quality to individual bathers. Illnesses studied were acute febrile respiratory illness, and eye, ear, and skin ailments.

Results: Fecal streptococci exposure was predictive of acute febrile respiratory illness, while fecal coliform exposure was predictive of ear ailments. Estimated thresholds of effect occurred at bather exposures above 60 fecal streptococci and 100 fecal coliform per 100 ml of water, respectively. Although no relationship was found between eye ailments and indicator organism exposure, compared with nonbathers, bathers were at higher risk for eye ailments.

Conclusions: Nonenteric illness can be transmitted via recreational contact with marine waters contaminated with sewage. These results argue against the use of a single indicator to establish water quality standards.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial
  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Bacterial Infections / etiology*
  • Chi-Square Distribution
  • Ear Diseases / etiology
  • Enterobacteriaceae / isolation & purification
  • Eye Infections, Bacterial / etiology
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Logistic Models
  • Male
  • Respiratory Tract Infections / etiology
  • Sewage*
  • Skin Diseases / etiology
  • Streptococcus / isolation & purification
  • Swimming*
  • United Kingdom
  • Water Microbiology*
  • Water Pollution / adverse effects*


  • Sewage