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Friday, 4 February, 2000, 00:26 GMT
El Nino 'triggered child illness'

el nino El Nino weather pattern blamed for illness

Temperature rises during the El Nino weather phenomenon led to 200% increases in cases of child diarrhoea, research has found.

An average 5C rise in Lima, Peru, caused a dramatic hike in admissions to hospital, according to researchers from the John Hopkins School of Public Health in the US.

They recorded over 57,000 admissions of children under 10-years-old to Lima's Oral Rehydration Unit during the 1997-98 El Nino - a weather phenomenon caused by temperature rises in the Pacific Ocean.

In a warmer and wetter world infectious diseases spread by insects or from person to person will tend to rise
Professor Tony McMichael
Each year, there are a billion cases of diarrhoea world-wide and three million deaths of children under five from the illness.

The team of researchers led by William Checkley said in the Lancet medical journal that their study showed how El Nino - and other temperature rises - caused increases in cases of infectious diseases.

Planning of health services needed to take into account weather changes, particularly given the evidence pointing to global warming, they said.

'Increase by millions'

They said: "If our findings are reproducible in other regions, diarrhoeal diseases may increase by millions of cases world-wide with each degree of increase in ambient temperature above normal."

Rises in temperature have previously been linked to increases in cases of malaria and dengue fever.

Professor Tony McMichael, at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: the study was the first of its kind to look at the effect of climate on diarrhoea.

He said: "The prospect of greater climate change and increased weather variability has brought these questions to the fore.

"If other things are held constant and there are no miraculous new vaccines and we don't all become as wealthy as the Americans, in a warmer and wetter world infectious diseases spread by insects or from person to person will tend to rise."

A commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions was the only long-term solution to the problem. In the short-term, health services needed to adapt to the effect of climate change, he said.

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