Climate change has resulted in decreased air quality, severe weather events, and many other environmental problems, but a CDC recent panel warns of a new consequence of global warming: alterations in the world’s climate may lead to infectious diseases spreading to areas where they are not commonly seen. Rising world temperatures are changing local weather events, and warmer weather can give rise to mosquito and insect populations, which spread diseases such as malaria and dengue fever. The impact of climate change will be widespread, and there is indication that preparing for prospective health risks is necessary. Although it will be challenging to predict exactly how climate change will change disease incidence, there is a lot travelers can do to adapt to changing conditions.
Impact on Human Health
The shifting climate affects human well-being on many levels. Changes in diverse environments lead to deviations in incidence and distribution of disease. Escalating temperatures may cause severe weather and extreme heat, resulting in injuries and heat-related illnesses. Rising sea levels influence water quality, leading to more occurrences of cholera and bacterial blooms. Increasing carbon dioxide levels impact water and food supply, and a surge in diarrheal diseases can result. Most importantly, changes in ecology and biodiversity affect disease vector populations, potentially leading to higher rates of malaria, dengue, encephalitis, hantavirus, chikungunya, and more. Since we live in a thoroughly interconnected world due to the ease of global travel, the effects climate change will have on disease agents will influence travelers of all types.
New maps of dengue vulnerability show that climate change is affecting natural mosquito populations and the diseases they carry. Dengue is a virus spread by mosquitoes, causing severe pain. It is frequently found in tropical areas in Latin America, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands. However, researchers warn that rising temperatures may facilitate the spread of mosquito populations into Europe, West and Central Africa, and South America.
Currently, these areas do not have warm enough year-round temperatures to maintain continuous mosquito populations. Yet new maps show that mosquitos are on the move, infiltrating areas that normally do not see them. “The conditions for these diseases are dynamic over time and given that we’re changing our social and environmental dynamics, the global distribution of these infectious diseases like dengue is going to change,” says Corinne Schuster-Wallace, a researcher at UN University.
Mosquitoes carry other illnesses such as malaria, yellow fever, and West Nile virus. Warmer weather could also influence the length of transmission periods. For example, areas that only experience malaria outbreaks in the summertime may now be facing a longer season, as temperatures remain conducive to mosquito breeding. Climate change will alter countries’ exposure to insect vectors that carry disease and thus affect human health globally.
Prevention Provides Protection
Public health actions, especially preparedness, can protect people from the effects of climate change on health. As some of these consequences of climate change become more evident, international travelers will be encouraged to take precautions. Areas where anti-malarial drugs were not necessary may now carry strong recommendations for these medications prior to travel. Because of modern technology, we can now travel to more regions faster, potentially increasing the rate of spread of infectious disease once we return home. Better prevention, detection, and response will be required by organizations and states as infectious diseases spread to new areas. If you are a frequent traveler to certain regions, it may be prudent to educate yourself about the types of new infectious diseases you may encounter. Speak to a Passport Health Travel Medicine Specialist to discuss your health and any vaccines/medications necessary for your journey. That way, you will be prepared and can enjoy your vacation or business trip, knowing you have taken precautions regarding your health.
What are your thoughts on climate change and disease? Let us know by leaving a comment below or visiting our Facebook page!
Reuters: Risk of Dengue Increases due to Climate Change
Ecology: Ecology of climate change and infectious diseases
WHO: Climate Change and Infectious Diseases
CDC: Climate Change and Health