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Respiratory illness linked to flooding

13th December 2011

People in rural Bangladesh did not have an increased diarrhoea risk after a particularly large flood in 2004, contrary to reports at the time, according to a recent Japanese study.

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There was a significant increase in respiratory infections in children, however, which seemed to be due to the flood.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), respiratory infections are a leading cause of death in children under five.

Floods often disrupt sewage systems and contaminate freshwater, and diarrhoea in flooded areas during the monsoon season is common.

One long-term study showed that seasonal monsoons could be linked to waterborne illnesses such as cholera.

The flood in question affected about 36 million people in Bangladesh.

Masahiro Hashizume, of Nagasaki University, said the finding showed that it was important for researchers to take other factors into account.

For the recent study, the researchers relied on an analysis of more than 200,000 residents of a region of Bangladesh near a delta, where flooding was particularly severe.

The data included information about diarrhoea and respiratory infections.

The researchers found that, while 66,000 people lived in an area vulnerable to seasonal floods, 144,000 people lived in an area that did not flood.

Surprisingly, there were about 4,200 cases of diarrhoea from areas that did not flood, compared to about 2,800 cases from flooded areas.

The researchers noted that, while other studies had not accounted for pre-existing statistical differences between flooded and non-flooded areas, theirs had.

The researchers also made analyses of more than 23,100 respiratory infections in non-flooded areas and more than 11,300 respiratory infections in flooded areas.

It turned out that, during the six months following the flood, children in flooded areas had a 25% higher risk of respiratory infections than children who did not live in flooded areas.

Such infections account for a high proportion of illnesses among people displaced by natural disasters.

Aiming to reduce the number of illnesses that arise after flooding, non-governmental organisations working in Bangladesh have made contributions to the country's infrastructure in various ways.

Such preventive measures include tube wells, hygiene education, and medical interventions.

Gerald Keusch, an infectious disease specialist at Boston University, who was not involved in the study, said that the number of interventions put in place by nongovernmental organisations in Bangladesh made the country exceptional.

He said that people needed to find ways to mitigate flooding, as well as ways to lessen its impact globally.


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