Associations between High Temperature, Heavy Rainfall, and Diarrhea among Young Children in Rural Tamil Nadu, India: A Prospective Cohort Study

Environ Health Perspect. 2019 Apr;127(4):47004. doi: 10.1289/EHP3711.


Background: The effects of weather on diarrhea could influence the health impacts of climate change. Children have the highest diarrhea incidence, especially in India, where many lack safe water and sanitation.

Objectives: In a prospective cohort of 1,284 children under 5 y of age from 900 households across 25 villages in rural Tamil Nadu, India, we examined whether high temperature and heavy rainfall was associated with increased all-cause diarrhea and water contamination.

Methods: Seven-day prevalence of diarrhea was assessed monthly for up to 12 visits from January 2008 to April 2009, and hydrogen sulfide ([Formula: see text]) presence in drinking water, a fecal contamination indicator, was tested in a subset of households. We estimated associations between temperature and rainfall exposures and diarrhea and [Formula: see text] using binomial regressions, adjusting for potential confounders, random effects for village, and autoregressive-1 error terms for study week.

Results: There were 259 cases of diarrhea. The prevalence of diarrhea during the 7 d before visits was 2.95 times higher (95% CI: 1.99, 4.39) when mean temperature in the week before the 7-d recall was in the hottest versus the coolest quartile of weekly mean temperature during 1 December 2007 to 15 April 2009. Diarrhea prevalence was 1.50 times higher when the 3 weeks before the diarrhea recall period included [Formula: see text] (vs. 0 d) with rainfall of [Formula: see text] (95% CI: 1.12, 2.02), and 2.60 times higher (95% CI: 1.55, 4.36) for heavy rain weeks following a 60-d dry period. The [Formula: see text] prevalence in household water was not associated with heavy rain prior to sample collection.

Conclusions: The results suggest that, in rural Tamil Nadu, heavy rainfall may wash pathogens that accumulate during dry weather into child contact. Higher temperatures were positively associated with diarrhea 1-3 weeks later. Our findings suggest that diarrhea morbidity could worsen under climate change without interventions to reduce enteric pathogen transmission through multiple pathways.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Climate Change
  • Diarrhea / epidemiology*
  • Diarrhea / etiology
  • Female
  • Hot Temperature / adverse effects*
  • Humans
  • India / epidemiology
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Prospective Studies
  • Rain*
  • Rural Population
  • Water Pollution / analysis*