FRIDAY, Aug. 31 (HealthDay News) -- The beaches along Lake Erie, where many people swim each summer, contain high concentrations of bacteria that are a sign of human fecal contamination, a new study shows.
The bacterium, known as Arcobacter, causes diarrhea, and those most vulnerable to infection are young children, the elderly and people with weakened immune systems, said study author Jiyoung Lee, an assistant professor at Ohio State University.
The study was published in the August issue of Applied and Environmental Microbiology.
The beaches studied in the analysis are all part of the Ohio state park system. Two are urban beaches that attract more than 9 million annual visitors, and the other two are natural sand beaches with more than 4 million visitors, according to study background information.
From those beaches, 75 percent of the 129 water samples taken in the summer of 2010 were positive for Arcobacter.
It's not known from the study whether other Great Lakes have similar levels of contamination.
"Lake Erie is the smallest and warmest compared to other Great Lakes, and it's shallower," Lee noted. "So [bacteria levels] could be similar but, for these and other reasons, might be different."
In June, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) released its annual report on beach closings and official beach advisories. Last year, 11 percent of Great Lakes samples violated public health standards.
Karen Hobbs, senior policy analyst for NRDC's water program, said the new Arcobacter results "track along with the findings in our study. So, it was certainly no surprise that fecal coliform is being found in beaches in Ohio."
"Across the Great Lakes, we have a problem with our aging and failing infrastructure," Hobbs added. "So, we have water main breaks, we have sewage pipes that leak, we have illegal connections
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