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Top Story

Floodwater in rivers affects vulnerability to waterborne diseases

In sub-Saharan Africa, diarrheal disease, a preventable and treatable illness, remains the second-leading cause of death in children under the age of five, as well as an overall public health threat. Now, researchers have uncovered a connection between the water in rivers and vulnerability to the disease. Scientists Kathleen Alexander of Virginia Tech and Alexandra Heaney and Jeffrey Shaman of Columbia University conducted research on the influence of flooding on disease along the Chobe River floodplain in northern Botswana. In southern Africa, climate change is predicted to increase the frequency of extreme events such as drought and floods, suggesting that people will be more vulnerable to waterborne disease. While flooding of a region is often associated with disease outbreaks, it was the draining of water off the flood plains back into the river channel that was most closely tied to diarrheal disease in this study. The researchers hypothesize that extreme variability in water conditions linked with annual rainfall and floods may compromise water treatment facilities.

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