Peruvians Sick of El Nino

By Weinhold, Bob | Environmental Health Perspectives, June 2000 | Go to article overview

Peruvians Sick of El Nino


Weinhold, Bob, Environmental Health Perspectives


As Peruvian officials braced for the effects of El Nino in 1997, they suspected they might be hit with a rash of diarrhea cases. They were correct, as the diarrhea caseload in children doubled during the worst stretches of a 16-month period of above-average temperatures. An international team of researchers led by William Checkley, a researcher in the Department of International Health at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health and a medical student at Northwestern University, has concluded in a study published in the 5 February 2000 issue of The Lancet that higher temperatures triggered a diarrhea outbreak in Lima. The study is one of the first to statistically support the long-suspected link between diarrhea and temperature. Diarrhea annually kills about four million people worldwide, mostly children.

The warming effects of El Nino were felt in Lima, a metropolitan area of about eight million people, from May 1997 through August 1998. The team compared selected data on hospital admissions and climate factors for the El Nino period to comparable data from 1993 to 1996. During the time for which data were reviewed, 57,331 children under age 10 who were suffering from diarrhea of undetermined cause were admitted to the Oral Rehydration Unit of the 600-bed Instituto de Salud del Nino, Lima's largest public hospital for children. The team found that the historical pattern of diarrhea cases in the Southern Hemisphere--higher in summer (January-March) and lower in winter (July-September)--continued during the El Nino period. But hospital admissions jumped about 20% higher than normal during the summer and up to 100% higher during the winter, leading to an estimated 6,225 more cases than normal during the El Nino period.

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