A curious discovery was made by researchers at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. The researchers, conducting a study in Botswana, found that spikes in childhood diarrhea are associated with climatic conditions related to the La Niña phenomenon.
Diarrhea can be fatal in low and middle income countries with underdeveloped medical networks, especially in children under the age of five. In Africa, diarrhea rates in children under five are particularly high and account for 1/4 of all deaths caused by diarrhea.
Researchers have found a connection with the La Niña phenomenon. The latter is an atmospheric phenomenon linked to the larger phenomenon called El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO), an irregular variation in the winds and surface temperatures of the oceans in the tropical eastern Pacific area.
ENSO is linked to both La Niña and El Niño: with the former, the ocean temperatures are warmer and with the latter colder. This phenomenon can affect weather conditions in various parts of the world such as temperature, wind and precipitation.
Analyzing statistics on childhood diarrhea (the one that affects children under five) in the Chobe region of northeastern Botswana, researchers have found that the La Niña phenomenon is associated with colder temperatures, increased rainfall and more frequent flooding in the same rainy season.
This same climatic phenomenon, as the researchers found, is associated with a 30% increase in the incidence of childhood diarrhea in the rainy season from December to February.
According to Alexandra K. Heaney, a researcher at the University of California at Berkeley, one of the authors of the study, the results of this research show that the phenomenon of ENSO can be used as a medium-long term forecasting tool for the spread of childhood diarrhea in southern Africa.
Specifically, when this climate phenomenon advances, it would be appropriate to accumulate more medical supplies, such as hospital beds, and more health workers in these areas to manage the increased incidence of this childhood disease.
Diarrhea can be caused by many different pathogens, including viruses, protozoa bacteria, and exposure to these pathogens itself can be facilitated by weather conditions: more rain and flooding means more contact with water, which is an ideal vector for some of these pathogens.
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