Climate change is likely to increase the occurrence of stomach bugs, researchers predict

January 7, 2013 by Anthony King
Climate change is likely to increase the occurrence of stomach bugs, researchers predict

We can blame all sorts of things on the weather. But a stomach bug? It seems unlikely. Yet, scientists say greater quantities of rainfall and bigger storms will lead to more stomach upsets in parts of Europe. "Increases in precipitation in some countries, due to climate change, will affect waterborne outbreaks of disease," Apostolos Vantarakis of the University of Patros, Greece, tells

Storms and persistent rainfall can lead to , which releases water with bacteria and viruses into our waterways. Ingesting this water while swimming or engaging in other water sports can make people sick. People may think bacteria are the cause of such illnesses, but viruses are the more likely culprits. "In my opinion most of the outbreaks [of stomach bug] are caused by viruses," Vantarakis says. "Yet we don't know a lot about these viruses."

Vantarakis is involved in an EU funded project, called Viroclime. It aims at upgrading tools for tracking harmful viruses from human sewage in Europe's waters and help weight up . The project has been monitoring virus levels in five environmentally sensitive sites in Spain, Hungary, Greece, Sweden and Brazil.

Two families of viruses are used as alarm signals of increased risk of . The first, whose most infamous representative is the winter vomiting bug, belongs to the noroviruses family. The second type belongs to the adenoviruses family. "The evidence of waterborne disease from is a little less clear, but we suspect they cause infection and disease," remarks Mark Sobsey, a from the University of North Carolina, USA, a leading expert in the field, who is not connected to the project.

Until now, experts have often been in the dark about sickness caused by waterborne viruses. Unlike automobile accidents and their , we have very poor surveillance for waterborne from recreational exposure, notes Sobsey. "If we had better data, which EU project Viroclime can gather, and we analyse the data using a health risk-based approach, we could get better estimated disease burdens from recreational water exposures," Sobsey adds. However, he says: "virus testing is still difficult, expensive and time consuming and is not widely done by public or private industry," in drinking water, let along recreational water.

Documenting the level of harmful viruses in water also has implications in a wider context. It could help assess the impact of various climate change scenarios and contribute to health protection measures. "If we have certain virus levels under current conditions, we will be able to say what those levels will be under new climate change conditions," explains Peter Wyn-Jones, lead scientist of the project at Aberystwyth University in Wales, UK. Health services can then prepare to address potential health threats. Spotting contaminated water sooner will, for example, allow authorities to close beaches and prevent stomach bugs in lovers.

Such approach could also pinpoint where exactly greater level of stomach illnesses are likely to occur by exploiting the link with rain levels. "It is increasingly becoming clear that will also impact on human health more ndirectly," concurs climatologist Clare Goodess, of the University of East Anglia, in the UK, "such indirect impacts include possible increases in viral waterborne pathogens in regions of increasing precipitation." Indeed, "for health-related impacts, changes in extremes may be more important than changes in average conditions," she adds, "so it is of concern that increases in the intensity of heavy precipitation are projected across Europe, with the strongest signals in Northern Europe particularly in winter."

Explore further: Does the sea pose a risk to our health?

Related Stories

Does the sea pose a risk to our health?

July 13, 2011
A new study has discovered viruses in almost 40 % of more than 1,400 bathing water samples collected from coastal and inland areas in 9 European countries. The findings, presented in the journal Water Research, suggest that ...

Recommended for you

New test differentiates between Lyme disease, similar illness

August 16, 2017
Lyme disease is the most commonly reported vector-borne illness in the United States. But it can be confused with similar conditions, including Southern Tick-Associated Rash Illness. A team of researchers led by Colorado ...

Addressing superbug resistance with phage therapy

August 16, 2017
International research involving a Monash biologist shows that bacteriophage therapy – a process whereby bacterial viruses attack and destroy specific strains of bacteria - can be used successfully to treat systemic, multidrug ...

Can previous exposure to west Nile alter the course of Zika?

August 15, 2017
West Nile virus is no stranger to the U.S.-Mexico border; thousands of people in the region have contracted the mosquito-borne virus in the past. But could this previous exposure affect how intensely Zika sickens someone ...

Compounds in desert creosote bush could treat giardia and 'brain-eating' amoeba infections

August 15, 2017
Researchers at Skaggs School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences at University of California San Diego and the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus have found that compounds produced by the creosote bush, a ...

New malaria analysis method reveals disease severity in minutes

August 11, 2017
Left untreated, malaria can progress from being mild to severe—and potentially fatal—in 24 hours. So researchers at the University of British Columbia developed a method to quickly and sensitively assess the progression ...

Drug trial shows promise for deadly neurological disorder

August 10, 2017
Results of a small clinical trial show promise for treating a rare neurodegenerative condition that typically kills those afflicted before they reach age 20. The disease, called Niemann-Pick type C (NPC), causes cholesterol ...


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

1 / 5 (2) Jan 07, 2013
Climate change is likely to increase the occurrence of stomach bugs

Climate change. Is there anything it cannot do?
1 / 5 (2) Jan 07, 2013
Climate change is likely to increase the occurrence of stomach bugs

Climate change. Is there anything it cannot do?

Apparently not.

The most insidious damage happens when the lure of grant money trumps scientific protocol, and the weaker-willed scientists abandon their principals and go over to the (scientific) "dark side".

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.