Can Existing Improvements of Water, Sanitation, and Hygiene (WASH) in Urban Slums Reduce the Burden of Typhoid Fever in These Settings?
BACKGROUND: Sustained investments in water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) have lagged in resource-poor settings; incremental WASH improvements may, nonetheless, prevent diseases such as typhoid in disease-endemic populations. METHODS: Using prospective data from a large cohort in urban Kolkata, India, we evaluated whether baseline WASH variables predicted typhoid risk in a training subpopulation (n = 28 470). We applied a machine learning algorithm to the training subset to create a composite, dichotomous (good, not good) WASH variable based on 4 variables, and evaluated sensitivity and specificity of this variable in a validation subset (n = 28 470). We evaluated in Cox regression models whether residents of "good" WASH households experienced a lower typhoid risk after controlling for potential confounders. We constructed virtual clusters (radius 50 m) surrounding each household to evaluate whether a prevalence of good WASH practices modified the typhoid risk in central household members. RESULTS: Good WASH practices were associated with protection in analyses of all households (hazard ratio [HR] = 0.57; 95% confidence interval [CI], .37-.90; P = .015). This protection was evident in persons ≥5 years old at baseline (HR = 0.47; 95% CI, .34-.93; P = .005) and was suggestive, though not statistically significant, in younger age groups (HR = 0.61; 95% CI, .27-1.38; P = .235). The level of surrounding household good WASH coverage was also associated with protection (HR = 0.988; 95% CI, .979-.996; P = .004, for each percent coverage increase). However, collinearity between household WASH and WASH coverage prevented an assessment of their independent predictive contributions. CONCLUSIONS: In this typhoid-endemic setting, natural variation in household WASH was associated with typhoid risk. If replicated elsewhere, these findings suggest that WASH improvements may enhance typhoid control, short of major infrastructural investments.