Children Are Exposed to Fecal Contamination via Multiple Interconnected Pathways: A Network Model for Exposure Assessment
Abstract: In recent decades, quantitative microbial risk assessment (QMRA) has been widely used to assess exposure to fecal microbes and associated health risks. In this study, a multipathway exposure assessment model was developed to evaluate exposure to fecal microbes for children under 5 in highly contaminated urban environments. Children had contact with various environmental compartments. The contamination levels of these compartments were estimated from fecal indicator counts in the environmental samples. Structured observations of child behavior (including activities, locations, and time) were used to model behavioral sequences as a dynamic network. The exposure model combines behavior sequences with environmental contamination, using additional exposure factors when needed, to estimate the number of fecal microbes transferred from environmental sources to human oral ingestion. As fecal exposure in a highly contaminated urban environment consists of contributions from multiple pathways, it is imperative to study their relative importance. The model helps us better understand the characteristics of the exposure pathways that may be driven by variation in contamination and by variable behavior, like hygiene and high‐risk activities. Importantly, the model also allows prediction of the quantitative effects of an intervention—the expected reduction in exposure due to infrastructural or behavioral changes—by means of scenario studies. Based on experience with this exposure model, we make specific recommendations for additional studies of child behavior and exposure factors in order to fill critical information gaps and improve the model structure and assumptions.