Untangling the Impacts of Climate Change on Waterborne Diseases: a Systematic Review of Relationships between Diarrheal Diseases and Temperature, Rainfall, Flooding, and Drought

Environ Sci Technol. 2016 May 17;50(10):4905-22. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.5b06186. Epub 2016 Apr 25.


Global climate change is expected to affect waterborne enteric diseases, yet to date there has been no comprehensive, systematic review of the epidemiological literature examining the relationship between meteorological conditions and diarrheal diseases. We searched PubMed, Embase, Web of Science, and the Cochrane Collection for studies describing the relationship between diarrheal diseases and four meteorological conditions that are expected to increase with climate change: ambient temperature, heavy rainfall, drought, and flooding. We synthesized key areas of agreement and evaluated the biological plausibility of these findings, drawing from a diverse, multidisciplinary evidence base. We identified 141 articles that met our inclusion criteria. Key areas of agreement include a positive association between ambient temperature and diarrheal diseases, with the exception of viral diarrhea and an increase in diarrheal disease following heavy rainfall and flooding events. Insufficient evidence was available to evaluate the effects of drought on diarrhea. There is evidence to support the biological plausibility of these associations, but publication bias is an ongoing concern. Future research evaluating whether interventions, such as improved water and sanitation access, modify risk would further our understanding of the potential impacts of climate change on diarrheal diseases and aid in the prioritization of adaptation measures.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Climate Change*
  • Droughts
  • Floods
  • Humans
  • Temperature*
  • Waterborne Diseases