MILWAUKEE (6/2/2010) - A new study by researchers at Children's Hospital of Wisconsin and The Medical College of Wisconsin released today reveals a link between rainfall and gastrointestinal disease in children. The study, published in the June issue of Environmental Health Perspectives, shows an increase in emergency department visits that may represent an unrecognized endemic in areas served by high-quality drinking water systems, with implications for impact of health under global climate change.
The increase in emergency department visits occurred in the absence of any health outbreaks reported to public health . This suggests that rainfall-associated illness may be underestimated. Previously, microbial water contamination after periods of heavy rainfall has been well-described, but its link to acute gastrointestinal illness in children is not as well-known.
The study, led by Marc Gorelick, MD, looked at visits to the Children's Hospital Emergency Department/Trauma Center for gastroenteritis or diarrhea from 2002 through 2007. This data was then compared to local rainfall data. Gorelick is the Jon E. Vice Chair in Emergency Medicine at Children's Hospital, associate director of Children's Research Institute, professor, Pediatrics (Emergency Medicine) and Population Health, and chief, Pediatric Emergency Medicine, at the Medical College.
During the time period, 17,357 visits for gastrointestinal disease were identified. Any rainfall four days prior was significantly associated with an 11 percent increase in gastrointestinal disease visits. Higher amounts of rainfall were associated with greater increases.
"Our results show a direct correlation between rainfall and an increase in this illness," said Gorelick. "This knowledge will be important when considering how climate change, such as increased rainfall, will impact health care systems and the health of our children."
The study was funded by the Children's Environmental Health Sciences Research Core Center. Collaborators included Sandra McLellan, associate scientist at UWM's Great Lakes WATER Institute, and Patrick Drayna, MD, pediatric emergency medicine fellow at Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt in Nashville.
"In cities where there is aging infrastructure and leaking pipes, untreated sewage could be leaking into stormwater systems, and children can be exposed to this contaminated water through playing in water in the stormwater culverts in their neighborhoods, for example." says Sandra McLellan, PhD. "There certainly is strong evidence that exposure is happening at some point and more detailed studies are needed to figure this out."