Researchers assess effect of hydrology on childhood gastrointestinal illness

March 24, 2014

A diverse team of researchers from UW-Madison and around the state explored the correlation between childhood gastrointestinal illnesses and the types of drinking water sources in Wisconsin.

Chris Uejio, now a faculty member at the University of Florida, led the study while he was a graduate student in the UW-Madison Population Health Department and Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies. Uejio's advisor was Jonathan Patz, a professor of environmental studies and population health sciences

The quality of drinking water in Wisconsin varies from place to place, and residents access drinking water in different ways. The three main sources of drinking waters are treated municipal water, untreated municipal water, and private well water.

Some illness-carrying pathogens travel in these water sources. The amounts of pathogens in water is also increased with rainfall. This study considered relationships between weather conditions, types of drinking water and the number of reported gastrointestinal illnesses in children. The research focused on locations in Central and Northern Wisconsin. 

Results found that when the rainfall was increased, during summertime and fall, there was a notable increase in gastrointestinal illness amongst children in places with untreated water. Municipalities with treated water and private wells did not see the same increase in illnesses. 

The researchers recommended that protecting drinking water, with treatment and delivery infrastructure in areas with untreated water, may be important measures for protecting children’s health.

The study was published in the April 2014 edition of the American Journal of Public Health.

Source: UW-Madison Population Health Sciences