Climate Change and Health: The Connection has Dangerous Implications for Spreading Disease

Environmental changes are making it easier for diseases to travel the world.

Climate change and Health: The Culex quinquefasciatus mosquito is associated with the transmission of West Nile Virus, warmer temperatures are making it easy for him to spread it. (Stringer / Reuters)

Sep 6, 2012
A former Gourmet staffer, Lawrence enjoys writing about design, food, travel, and lots of other stuff.

Last night, President Obama spoke about climate change while accepting the Democratic nomination for a second term. And as if right on cue, the consequences of this global issue reared its ugly head.

“In 2004, a rare tropical fungus caused a string of respiratory failures and neural disorders along the Pacific Northwest coast, baffling the health community,” reports The New York Times. “That same year, Alaskan cruise ship passengers dining on local oysters fell sick with a gastric virus typically found in warm water estuaries. Now Texas, after an unusually wet spring and dry summer, is battling what may become the country’s worst recorded outbreak of West Nile virus. Meteorological and ecological shifts driven by climate change are creating a slow and often unpredictable bloom of novel public health challenges across the United States.”

Mother Jones seconded this notion last month, saying, “From the known and treatable (Lyme disease) to the unpronounceable and potentially deadly (Cryptococcus gattii), climate change is giving gross diseases a leg up, clearing their way onward to the United States.”

MORE: Hurricanes and Climate Change: A Marriage Made in Hell

Backing up these findings, Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association has said, “Climate change is one of the most serious public health threats facing our nation . . . Yet few Americans are aware of the very real consequences of climate change on the health of our communities, our families and our children.”

And last November, Scientific American reported that, “Climate change can influence how infectious diseases affect the world, particularly illnesses spread by vectors like mosquitoes." They go on to quote Diarmid Campbell-Lendrum, head of the climate change team at the World Health Organization's headquarters, stating that "Climate change is not going to invent any new diseases; it's going to make controlling existing diseases harder . . . We've been describing the links between climate change and health for quite a long time."

The Center for International Earth Science Information Network (CIESIN) had similar findings with regard to vector-borne diseases saying, “Weather affects vector population dynamics and disease transmission, with temperature and humidity considered key variables. Only recently have researchers attempted to predict how climate change might affect the distribution of vector-borne diseases. A comprehensive model should consider both the direct impacts (such as changes in temperature or rainfall) and indirect impacts (such as changes in hydrology or agriculture) of global warming on the agent, vector, intermediary host, and the human host. The response of each element of the disease process to climate change may have ramifications for the others.”

In other words, when it comes to climate change and the transmission of disease, it’s going to be a small world after all.

Do you support findings that there’s a connection between climate change and health risks, like the rise of diseases worldwide?

Lawrence Karol is a writer and editor who lives with his dog, Mike. He is a former Gourmet staffer and enjoys writing about design, food, travel and lots of other stuff. @WriteEditDream | Email Lawrence |

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