The El Niño phenomenon -- the warming of the equatorial Pacific ocean which occurs every two to seven years -- has been linked to outbreaks of dengue, malaria, and cholera. Now, researchers from the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, A.B. Prisma, and the Instituto Nacional de Salud in Lima, Peru have found that the 1997-1998 El Niño season increased diarrheal disease admissions by 200%, according to a study to be published in the Feb. 5th issue of The Lancet.
A team of scientists led by William Checkley examined diarrheal disease admissions records for over 57,000 children from 1993-1998, and found an increase of admissions during the El Niño season significantly above the normal expected admissions. The increase in admissions was particularly strong during Peru's winter months (May-November). The results are cause for significant public health concern since diarrhea causes one billion episodes and three million deaths annually in children under five worldwide.
The researchers estimate that diarrheal disease admissions increased by more than 8% with every 1 degree C. rise in temperature -- results which will potentially increase diarrheal disease cases by millions worldwide with each degree of increase in ambient temperature due to global warming or other local factors. Further studies, also funded by USAID through Harvard's Applied Research on Child Health (ARCH) Project are underway which examine the effects of El Niño on human health.
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