The Heat Is Online

El Nino Breeds Cholera, Dengue, Malaria

El Nino triples cases of diarrheal disease-study

Reuters News Service, Feb. 4, 2000

LONDON - The El Nino weather phenomenon has caused a three-fold surge in the number of deaths from diarrheal disease, a study published yesterday said.

El Nino, the warming of the Pacific Ocean every two to seven years which leads to extreme climate changes, has been linked to outbreaks of dengue fever, malaria and cholera.

In the latest edition of the Lancet medical journal, researchers in Peru from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, A.B. Prisma and the Instituto Nacional de Salud said the El Nino season in 1997-98 vastly - and directly - increased diarrheal disease.

"It shows a direct cause-and-effect link," William Checkley, who led the team of scientists, told Reuters.

"In Lima there is very minimal rainfall even during El Nino, and the main environmental change is in temperature. By driving up the temperature, El Nino causes an increase in the number of admissions for diarrheal diseases in children."

The researchers looked at diarrheal disease admissions for more than 57,000 children from newborns to age 10 between 1993 and 1998 in Lima.

They estimated that the number of cases of diseases such as E-coli and salmonella, whose main symptom is diarrhoea, rose by more than eight percent with every one degree Centigrade rise in temperature.

"The 1997-98 El Nino marked the first time in history that climate scientists were able to predict the event several months in advance," Checkley said.

"So for future El Nino episodes, preventive actions can be taken to reduce the number of deaths and illnesses from these types of diseases."

Worldwide, diarrhoea causes three million deaths a year in children under five - making it one of the leading causes of death among the very young.

"With awareness of the event and prediction of El Nino, something can be done. It's been shown that oral rehydration therapy would be effective in reducing the mortality rate as well as things like water chlorination," Checkley said.

He said the findings also suggested a possible link between diarrheal disease and global warming. "But that's a very controversial issue and more studies will need to be done," Checkley said.