Alaska Natives Without Running Water Have Higher Rates of Respiratory Infections, Other Health Issues
Alaska Natives living in rural homes without running water have high rates of respiratory tract, skin and gastrointestinal tract infections, likely because of the lack of fresh water for bathing and hand-washing, according to a report published on Tuesday in the American Journal of Public Health, the AP/Anchorage Daily News reports. The study -- conducted by CDC in conjunction with the Indian Health Service and tribal corporations in six regions of Alaska -- surveyed more than 12,000 homes in 128 communities from 2000 to 2004. Thomas Hennessy, director of CDC's Arctic Investigation Program, authored the study. In 2000, 6.3% of households in Alaska were without complete sanitation services, the highest rate in the nation, according to the AP/Daily News. Overall, 73% of the rural households in the study had running water.
The study found that the incidence of respiratory infections and skin infections was highest in villages where less than 10% of households had running water, with the elderly and infants particularly vulnerable. Infants living in such villages were hospitalized for pneumonia 11 times more often than infants in the rest of the U.S. population, according to the study. In one unnamed Alaskan region, 35 out of every 100 infants in villages with the lowest levels of running water were hospitalized for lower respiratory tract infections. In addition, the study found that Alaska Natives who live in households without running water and collect wastewater in "honey buckets" had higher rates of antibiotic-resistant staphylococcal infections and other skin infections.
The high disease rate among the group likely is the result of a reluctance to use water for hygienic purposes, such as hand-washing, researchers said. Residents of rural regions of Alaska sometimes have to travel far distances to access water and haul it to their homes one five-gallon container at a time, according to the AP/Daily News. "The inconvenience of not having water and not being able to clean your hands and body perhaps in the same way you would if you had running water -- and the negative consequences that has for the spread of infectious diseases in a household -- is really quite telling," Hennessy said. According to the AP/Daily News, the "study is believed to be the first in the U.S. to demonstrate a link between the availability of water and respiratory infections" (AP/Anchorage Daily News, 4/2).
An abstract of the study is available online.