The study found global changes in weather, including in Australia, were linked to cases of cryptosporidiosis – a common water-borne parasite that leads to gastro, particularly in children under the age of five.
Lead researcher Dr Aparna Lal said her study found that in some places there was a clear relationship between rainfall and flooding and childhood cryptosporidiosis.
“It was surprising that extreme weather conditions stood out,” Dr Lal said.
“We expected to find a much stronger relationship with water infrastructure and sanitation and country-level development. The relationship was especially notable in areas near the equator and in tropical areas.
“We know flooding is linked to childhood gastro. And with climate change we can expect more extreme weather events like heavy rainfall and flooding. What our study shows is that in certain regions, this will impact water-related health risks.
“And the closer and closer extreme weather events like flooding take place, there is less recovery time for kids – meaning they are likely to be ill more.
“Climate change will impact our children’s health. This is just another example of how.”
Dr Lal said the study highlighted concerns for better disease management in areas increasingly hit with extreme weather, especially the tropics and equator.
She says medical practitioners, policymakers, natural resource managers and the water industry need to rethink their approach to protecting health in the face of climate change.
“Although huge public health gains have been made to reduce the burden of diarrhoea globally, climate change can threaten these gains,” Dr Lal said.
“If we want to prevent this easily spreadable parasite causing gastro in a time of climate change, a health sector driven response is not enough.
“If we know heavy rainfall or a flood is going to flush pathogens through our drinking water then we need meteorologists looking at weather patterns, the water industry and catchment managers monitoring water quality, as well as health sector and medical practitioners being prepared for a possible increase in childhood gastro.”
The research is published in Science of the Total Environment.
Dr Aparna Lal
National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health
ANU College of Health and Medicine
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