Climate change can have various health impacts, including the emergence and spread of certain diseases. There is a wide range of diseases caused by climate change and it is of utmost importance to know about these diseases and the right way to prevent them.
This change can lead to shifts in weather patterns, more extreme weather events, sea level rise, and shifts in plant and animal populations and behaviors. Climate change in turn affects various aspects of human society, including agriculture, economies, and human health as earlier stated.
Some of the diseases caused or exacerbated by climate change include:
- Vector-borne diseases
- Waterborne diseases
- Respiratory diseases
- Heat-related illnesses
- Food and water insecurity
Ways by which the diseases are spread
In order to comprehend the impact of climate change, it is crucial to examine the various ways in which diseases spread, such as through mosquito and tick bites, and contact with animals, fungi, and water.
Mosquitoes and ticks
Mosquitoes and ticks have more opportunities to reproduce, spread diseases, and expand their habitats due to mild winters, early springs, and warmer temperatures. It is a good example of a vector and the related diseases it carries can be classified as Vector-borne diseases, as stated earlier.
Many of the most significant and neglected infectious diseases in humans, such as malaria, dengue fever, chikungunya, and West Nile virus, are transmitted by mosquitoes and other biting insects.
These diseases have been largely prevented in wealthier countries in the Northern Hemisphere due to economic development and cooler temperatures. However, climate change is expected to reverse this trend and increase the prevalence of mosquito-borne diseases.
The number of reported illnesses from mosquito, tick, and flea bites has more than doubled between 2004 and 2018 as reported in the United States. Furthermore, there were new germs that were either discovered or introduced by mosquitoes and ticks during this time.
Close contact with animals
Climate change has also forced animal species into new habitats as their natural habitats disappear, increasing the potential for contact between humans and animals and the spread of zoonotic diseases(diseases that can spread from animals to humans).
For example, the rabies virus is spreading to previously unoccupied regions through wildlife, while rising temperatures in Alaska have resulted in a surge in vole populations.
These voles have the potential to transmit diseases such as Alaskapox to humans. As global temperatures rise, diseases like Ebola, Lassa, Rift Valley fever, and monkeypox may increase along with the risk of them being imported into the United States.
Rising temperatures have allowed disease-causing fungi to spread into new areas. For instance, Valley fever, caused by a fungus that thrives in hot and dry areas, has spread into the Pacific Northwest.
Climate change also increases the risk of natural disasters and flooding, which can lead to mold growth in homes. Certain molds can cause deadly infections.
Climate change is predicted to have devastating impacts on both freshwater and marine environments. One concerning consequence is the increased occurrence and severity of harmful algal blooms, which are rapid growths of algae or cyanobacteria in bodies of water.
This has already been observed in Lake Erie, where warming temperatures have led to toxic blooms lasting longer into the winter months. These blooms can take on various appearances, such as foam, scum, or mats on the water’s surface, and can come in different colors. When we consume shellfish that is contaminated, they can be a danger to our health.
Additionally, they can also have negative effects on pets, livestock, wildlife, and the environment as a whole. While no human deaths caused by cyanobacteria have been reported in the United States, these toxins can make dogs and other animals sick, and in some cases, even result in death within a short period of time.
Instances of dog deaths have been documented after dogs swam in or drank freshwater contaminated with cyanobacterial toxins.
Prevention of diseases caused by climate change
Climate change can indirectly contribute to a variety of diseases, particularly those related to heat stress, air and water quality, food and waterborne diseases, vector-borne diseases, environmental degradation, and extreme weather events.
Here are some ways to prevent diseases associated with climate change:
- Educate communities about the signs of heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Stay hydrated and limit physical exertion during the hottest parts of the day. Cool public spaces and hydration stations can help people find relief from heatwaves.
- Minimize outdoor activities during high pollution or smog days, especially for people with respiratory conditions. Use air purifiers indoors and wear protective masks outdoors in polluted environments.
- Ensure safe food handling practices and access to clean water. This might involve boiling water, using water purification tablets, or investing in infrastructure to clean and deliver safe drinking water. Monitoring food chains for climate change-induced disruptions can also prevent disease outbreaks.
- Control measures for vectors such as mosquitoes can help reduce diseases like malaria and dengue fever. This can involve eliminating breeding grounds (standing water), using insecticides, and wearing clothing that limits skin exposure. Vaccinations where available can also be a crucial preventive measure.
- Advocate for policies that limit pollution and environmental degradation. Use sustainable practices in agriculture, manufacturing, and other industries.
- Develop community response plans for extreme weather events, including floods, hurricanes, and droughts. This includes evacuation plans, emergency communication, and adequate shelter. Ensuring sufficient healthcare access and preparation for these events can also help prevent related diseases.
- Climate change also affects mental health. Ensure there are adequate mental health resources for people affected by climate change, including access to therapists and support groups.
Diseases Caused by Climatic Changes
As the climate changes, there is an increased risk for health threats including diseases like;
- antibiotic-resistant infections
- fungal diseases like valley fever and histoplasmosis
- harmful algal bloom-associated illness
- Lyme disease
- Spotted fever rickettsiosis
- West Nile virus disease etc.
Anaplasmosis is caused by the bacteria Anaplasma phagocytophilum. It primarily affects domestic animals such as cattle, sheep, and goats, but can also infect humans.
The disease is transmitted through the bite of infected ticks, most commonly the black-legged tick (Ixodes scapularis) in the United States.
Symptoms of anaplasmosis in animals can include fever, loss of appetite, weight loss, lethargy, and decreased milk production.
In severe cases, it can lead to anemia and even death. In humans, symptoms can vary but often include fever, headache, muscle aches, and fatigue.
Treatment involves the use of antibiotics, such as doxycycline, to eliminate the infection. Tick control and prevention measures, such as using tick repellents and checking for ticks after outdoor activities, are important in preventing anaplasmosis.
These infections occur when bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites evolve and become resistant to the drugs that are designed to kill them. This means that the medications that were once effective in treating these infections are no longer able to eliminate the pathogens.
The development of antibiotic resistance is a natural process that occurs over time as microorganisms adapt to the drugs used against them.
However, the misuse and overuse of antibiotics in human and animal healthcare have accelerated this process. Factors contributing to the rise of antibiotic-resistant infections include inappropriate prescribing of antibiotics, patients not completing their full course of antibiotics, agricultural use of antibiotics in livestock, and prevention and control measures in healthcare settings.
Antibiotic-resistant infections also complicate the treatment of various conditions, such as pneumonia, urinary tract infections, bloodstream infections, and surgical site infections. In some cases, there may be no effective treatment options available, leading to persistent infections and increased risk of complications.
Cryptosporidiosis is a parasitic infection caused by the protozoan parasite Cryptosporidium. It is commonly found in contaminated water sources, such as rivers, lakes, and swimming pools. The parasite can also be transmitted through contact with infected animals or through the consumption of contaminated food or beverages.
Symptoms of cryptosporidiosis include watery diarrhea, stomach cramps, nausea, vomiting, and fever. These symptoms usually appear within 2 to 10 days after exposure to the parasite and can last for up to two weeks.
In healthy individuals, the infection is usually self-limiting and resolves on its own without treatment. However, in people with weakened immune systems, such as those with HIV/AIDS or undergoing chemotherapy, the infection can be more severe and prolonged.
Prevention of cryptosporidiosis involves practicing good hygiene, such as washing hands with soap and water before eating or preparing food, after using the toilet, and after handling animals. It is also important to avoid swallowing water from potentially contaminated sources, such as lakes or swimming pools. Water treatment processes, such as filtration and chlorination, can help in reducing the risk of infection.
There is no specific treatment for cryptosporidiosis, and most cases resolve on their own without medical intervention. However, in severe cases or in individuals with weakened immune systems, antiparasitic medications may be prescribed to help clear the infection.
It is important to stay hydrated and maintain a balanced diet during the course of the infection to prevent dehydration and malnutrition.
Overall, cryptosporidiosis is a common parasitic infection that can cause gastrointestinal symptoms. Practicing good hygiene and avoiding contaminated water sources are key in preventing the transmission of the parasite.
Valley fever, also known as coccidioidomycosis, is a fungal infection caused by inhaling spores of the fungus Coccidioides immitis or Coccidioides posadasii.
It primarily affects the lungs but can also spread to other parts of the body, such as the skin, bones, and central nervous system.
Valley fever is endemic to certain regions, particularly the southwestern United States, including Arizona, California, Nevada, New Mexico, and Texas, as well as parts of Central and South America. The fungus is found in the soil, especially in arid and desert areas, and can become airborne when the soil is disturbed, such as during construction or windstorms.
Most people who are exposed to the fungus do not develop any symptoms or experience mild flu-like symptoms that resolve on their own. However, in some cases, the infection can become severe and lead to pneumonia or disseminated disease, where the fungus spreads to other organs and tissues.
Symptoms of valley fever may include fatigue, cough, fever, chest pain, joint pain, skin rash, night sweats, and headache.
These symptoms usually develop one to three weeks after exposure to the fungus. In severe cases, the infection can cause complications such as lung nodules, abscesses, meningitis, and bone or joint infections.
Treatment typically involves antifungal medications, such as fluconazole or itraconazole, and the duration of treatment can vary depending on the severity of the infection.
Prevention of valley fever primarily involves avoiding exposure to the fungus by minimizing activities that generate dust in endemic areas, wearing masks during dusty conditions, and staying indoors during dust storms.
People with weakened immune systems, pregnant women, and individuals of African or Filipino descent may be at higher risk of developing severe forms of valley fever and may require closer monitoring and treatment.
Rabies is a viral disease that affects the central nervous system and is transmitted through the saliva of infected animals.
It is almost always fatal once symptoms develop, but can be prevented through vaccination. Immediate medical attention is necessary if bitten or scratched by an animal suspected of having rabies, and post-exposure prophylaxis can prevent the disease from progressing. Rabies is widespread in many parts of the world, particularly in developing countries.
Spotted fever rickettsiosis
Spotted fever rickettsiosis is a bacterial infection transmitted through ticks, fleas, or mite bites. The most common type is Rocky Mountain spotted fever.
Symptoms include fever, headache, muscle aches, fatigue, and a rash. Without treatment, it can lead to severe complications and even death. Treatment involves antibiotics, and prevention includes avoiding bites and promptly removing ticks.
Malaria is a life-threatening disease caused by parasites transmitted through mosquito bites. Prevention involves insecticide-treated bed nets, indoor spraying, and antimalarial medications.
There is no vaccine available, but treatment with antimalarial drugs is crucial. Malaria is a major public health problem, particularly in tropical regions.
Conclusion about the diseases caused by climate change
It is important to note that while climate change can influence the occurrence and spread of these diseases, they are often multi-factorial in nature, with various other factors also playing a role.
Public health interventions, adaptation strategies, and mitigation efforts are crucial in addressing the health impacts of climate change.