Consumption of untreated tank rainwater and gastroenteritis among young children in South Australia

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Tank rainwater is a source of untreated drinking water in Australia and elsewhere. The aim of this study was to determine whether the risk of gastroenteritis among children who drank tank rainwater differed from that of children who drank treated public mains water.


A cohort study of 1016 4- to 6-year old children who drank rainwater or treated mains water in rural South Australia was undertaken in 1999. Parents kept a daily diary of their child's gastrointestinal symptoms and water consumption for a period of 6 weeks. Data on respiratory illness and other risk factors for gastroenteritis were also collected.


The incidence of gastroenteritis among children was 3.8–5.3 episodes per child-year, but most episodes (60%) lasted just 1 day. No increase in odds of gastroenteritis was observed among children who drank rainwater compared with treated mains water. The adjusted odds ratio for gastroenteritis associated with rainwater consumption compared with mains consumption was 0.84 (95% confidence interval 0.63–1.13).


Gastroenteritis was found to be a significant cause of morbidity among young children. Young children, who were regular consumers of tank rainwater, were at no greater odds of gastroenteritis than those who drank treated public mains water.

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