Diarrheal disease is one of the leading causes of morbidity and mortality globally, particularly in children under 5 years of age. Factors related to diarrheal disease incidence include infection, malnutrition, and exposure to contaminated water and food. Climate factors also contribute to diarrheal disease. We aimed to explore the relationship between temperature, precipitation and diarrhoea case counts of hospital admissions among vulnerable communities living in a rural setting in South Africa. We applied ‘contour analysis’ to visually examine simultaneous observations in frequencies of anomalously high and low diarrhoea case counts occurring in a season, and assigning colours to differences that were statistically significant based on chi-squared test results. Children under 5 years of age were especially vulnerable to diarrhoea during very dry, hot conditions as well as when conditions were wetter than usual. We saw an anomalously higher number of diarrhoea cases during ‘warmer than usual’ conditions in the dry winter season, with average winter temperatures in Limpopo being from about 5 to 10 °C. As for ‘wetter than usual’ conditions, we saw an anomalously higher number of diarrhoea cases during ‘drier than usual’ conditions for the winter and spring. The lagged association seen in cumulative rainfall could not be distinguished in the same way for temperature-related variables (indicating rainfall had a larger impact on higher cases of diarrhoea), nor for the older age group of 5 years and older. Dry conditions were associated with diarrhoea in children under 5 years of age; such conditions may lead to increased water storage, raising the risks of water contamination. Reduced use of water for personal hygiene and cleaning of outdoor pit latrines also affect sanitation quality. Rural communities require adequate and uninterrupted water provision, and healthcare providers should raise awareness about potential diarrhoeal risks, especially during the dry season as well as during wintertime when conditions are warmer than usual.
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