Pseudomonas aeruginosa is the most frequently isolated microorganism from whirlpool water and lesions associated with outbreaks of dermatitis and folliculitis related to whirlpool exposure. Strains were selected from 19 outbreaks of P. aeruginosa infections (1977 to 1983) associated with whirlpool use; they were examined to determine if the strains possessed unique virulence factors or characteristics that might aid in their selection in the environment.
P. aeruginosa, 011, was the predominant serotype isolated from whirlpool water as well as from bathers with dermatitis or folliculitis, followed by serotypes 09, 04, and 03. Antimicrobial susceptibility patterns were similar for all strains. Strains of P. aeruginosa from bathers and water demonstrated statistically significant differences in extracellular enzyme production compared with control strains. P. aeruginosa, serotypes 09 and 011, were found to be sensitive to low levels of chlorine. These data suggest that, if adequate levels of free available chlorine are maintained, P. aeruginosa should have little opportunity to persist in whirlpools.
A bather's risk of P. aeruginosa dermatitis or folliculitis appears to be affected primarily by three factors: 1) immersion in water colonized by P. aeruginosa, 2) skin hydration with altered skin flora, and 3) toxic reactions to extracellular enzyme or exotoxins produced by P. aeruginosa. Although a single virulence factor was not identified from the results of this study, there are some indications that the enzymes produced by these microorganisms play an important role in the pathogenesis of disease associated with whirlpool use.