Open Access Open Badges Research article

The association between drinking water turbidity and gastrointestinal illness: a systematic review

Andrea G Mann*, Clarence C Tam, Craig D Higgins and Laura C Rodrigues

Author Affiliations

Infectious Disease Epidemiology Unit, Department of Epidemiology & Population Health, London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine, Keppel Street, London, WC1E 7HT, UK

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BMC Public Health 2007, 7:256  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-7-256

Published: 21 September 2007



Studies suggest that routine variations in public drinking water turbidity may be associated with endemic gastrointestinal illness. We systematically reviewed the literature on this topic.


We searched databases and websites for relevant studies in industrialized countries. Studies investigating the association between temporal variations in drinking water turbidity and incidence of acute gastrointestinal illness were assessed for quality. We reviewed good quality studies for evidence of an association between increased turbidity and gastrointestinal illness.


We found six relevant good quality studies. Of five studies investigating effluent water turbidity, two found no association. Two studies from Philadelphia reported increased paediatric and elderly hospital use on specific days after increased turbidity. A fifth study reported more telephone health service calls on specific days after peak turbidity. There were differences between studies affecting their comparability, including baseline turbidity and adjustment for seasonal confounders.


It is likely that an association between turbidity and GI illness exists in some settings or over a certain range of turbidity. A pooled analysis of available data using standard methods would facilitate interpretation.