Risk behaviors and self-reported illnesses among Pacific Northwest surfers

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Although surfers have high incidental exposure to marine waters, no studies have investigated if surfer risk behaviors (such as surfing during advisories, near an outfall, during a rain event, or use of personal protective equipment) increase or decrease the risk of acquiring waterborne illnesses. We used a web-based survey to assess the association between risk-based behaviors and self-reported illnesses among Pacific Northwest surfers. Commonly reported illnesses include: ear infection or discharge (38%), sore throat or a cough (28%), diarrhea (16%), fever (10.5%), and vomiting (7%). Surfing often during rain events was associated with an increased likelihood of diarrhea (OR = 2.7; 95% CI: 1.4–5.47), sore throat (OR = 1.26; 95% CI: 1.01–2.05), and ear infection (OR = 1.39; 95% CI: 1.01–2.32). Surfing during a health advisory was associated with increased likelihood of diarrhea (OR = 1.94; 95% CI: 1.03–4.64) and sore throat (OR = 2.32; 95% CI: 1.23–4.40). Other behaviors associated with increased illnesses include body surfing, surfing near an outfall, frequency of surfing, and use of ear plugs. Approximately 40% of surfers were unaware if they had surfed during an active health advisory and 29% knowingly surfed during advisories, suggesting the need to engage this population about potential harm and behaviors that may increase health risk.

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