Send to

Choose Destination
Environ Health Perspect. 2003 Jun;111(8):1102-9.

Do U.S. Environmental Protection Agency water quality guidelines for recreational waters prevent gastrointestinal illness? A systematic review and meta-analysis.

Author information

Epidemiology and Biomarkers Branch, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, USA.


Despite numerous studies, uncertainty remains about how water quality indicators can best be used in the regulation of recreational water. We conducted a systematic review of this topic with the goal of quantifying the association between microbial indicators of recreational water quality and gastrointestinal (GI) illness. A secondary goal was to evaluate the potential for GI illness below current guidelines. We screened 976 potentially relevant studies and from these identified 27 studies. From the latter, we determined summary relative risks for GI illness in relation to water quality indicator density. Our results support the use of enterococci in marine water at U.S. Environmental Protection Agency guideline levels. In fresh water, (Italic)Escherichia(/Italic) coli was a more consistent predictor of GI illness than are enterococci and other bacterial indicators. A log (base 10) unit increase in enterococci was associated with a 1.34 [95% confidence intervals (CI), 1.00-1.75] increase in relative risk in marine waters, and a log (base 10) unit increase in E. coli was associated with a 2.12 (95% CI, 0.925-4.85) increase in relative risk in fresh water. Indicators of viral contamination were strong predictors of GI illness in both fresh and marine environments. Significant heterogeneity was noted among the studies. In our analysis of heterogeneity, studies that used a nonswimming control group, studies that focused on children, and studies of athletic or other recreational events found elevated relative risks. Future studies should focus on the ability of new, more rapid and specific microbial methods to predict health effects, and estimating the risks of recreational water exposure among susceptible persons.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]
Free PMC Article

Supplemental Content

Full text links

Icon for Atypon Icon for PubMed Central
Loading ...
Support Center