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28-08-2012 | Gastroenterology | Article

Country drinking water may pose child health risk


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medwireNews: Findings from a UK study published in PLoS ONE suggest that small private drinking water supplies, typically found in countryside locations, are more likely to be contaminated and result in gastrointestinal illness in children than standard mains water supplies.

"We found a particularly high incidence of diarrhoea in children under 10 in homes provided by water which was contaminated with bacteria. The results showed that these children would suffer almost five incidents a year - a risk of illness similar to that reported in developing countries," said investigator Paul Hunter (University of East Anglia, Norwich) in a press statement.

"This is a serious concern. As well as children being more at risk, they also suffer the most from an episode of diarrhoea - with greater rates of hospitalization and higher mortality rates," he added.

The researchers enrolled 600 individuals living in 264 households in Norfolk, Suffolk, and Herefordshire receiving water from small private supplies such as wells and boreholes to take part in their study and to represent the 1% of the UK population who typically receive such supplies.

Each water supply involved was subjected to sanitary inspection and examination including testing for bacterial contamination. The participants were asked to keep a record of any intestinal infectious disease symptoms experienced by household members over a 12-week period.

The crude prevalence of intestinal infectious disease symptoms was 9.3 days with symptoms per 1000 person-days, with a crude incidence of 3.2 episodes per 1000 person-days or 1.2 episodes per person-year.

Overall, no significant association was found between risk for intestinal infectious diseases and presence of indicators of fecal pollution.

However, when age was taken into account, children under the age of 10 years who drank from supplies contaminated with enterococci bacteria had a significant 4.8- and 8.9-fold increased incidence and prevalence, respectively, of intestinal infectious diseases.

Notably, no significant increase in risk for intestinal infections was seen in those aged 10-59 years who lived in households with contaminated versus non-contaminated water.

"It is very important that households reliant on private water supplies, where children under 10 live or visit, are identified and frequently tested for pollution. Our recommendation to parents is to either ensure adequate well-maintained treatment such as chlorination or filtration, or provide alternate sources such as drinking bottled water," commented Hunter.

medwireNews ( is an independent clinical news service provided by Springer Healthcare Limited. © Springer Healthcare Ltd; 2012

By Helen Albert, Senior medwireNews Reporter

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