Climate impacts have worsened a wide range of human diseases

More than half of human diseases caused by pathogens have at some point been made worse by the kinds of impacts associated with the climate crisis, a comprehensive new study of the relationship between disease and climate hazards has found.

Diseases such as Zika, malaria, dengue, chikungunya and even Covid-19 have been exacerbated by climate impacts such as heat waves, wildfires, extreme rainfall and floods, according to the paper. In total, there are more than 1,000 different pathways for these different impacts to worsen the spread of disease, a cavalcade of threats “too numerous for comprehensive societal adaptations,” the researchers wrote.

Global warming and changed rainfall patterns are expanding the range of disease vectors such as mosquitoes, ticks and fleas, leading to the spread of malaria, Lyme disease, West Nile virus and other conditions.

Storms and floods have displaced people, bringing them closer to pathogens that cause outbreaks of gastroenteritis and cholera, while climate impacts have weakened humans’ ability to cope with certain pathogens; fever and other diseases.

“We’re opening a Pandora’s box of disease,” said Camilo Mora, a University of Hawaii geographer who led the research. “Because of climate change, we have all these triggers around the world, more than 1,000 of them. There are diseases out there waiting to be unleashed. It’s like poking a lion with a stick – at some point the lion will come and it will bite us in the ass.”

The researchers reviewed more than 70,000 scientific papers that looked at the links between different climate hazards and infectious diseases. Some of these papers examine evidence dating back 700 years, before the onset of the human-caused climate crisis. Of the 375 different infectious diseases mentioned in these papers, the researchers found that 218, more than half, have been exacerbated by climate impacts that are now becoming more common due to global warming.

According to the paper, published in Nature Climate Change, a smaller proportion of infectious diseases, around 16%, was reduced by climate impacts. Kira Webster, co-author of the study, said that as the disease database grew, “we were fascinated and distressed by the large number of case studies available that already show how vulnerable we are becoming to our increasing greenhouse gas emissions.” .

Mora said there were likely a number of ways the climate crisis worsened the spread of Covid, such as habitat disruption from fires and floods displacing wildlife, such as disease-carrying bats, to new and more close to humans Mora said he himself has suffered from chronic joint pain after contracting chikungunya during an outbreak in Colombia a few years ago after a period of heavy rain caused a surge in mosquito numbers.

“If there are pathogens that cause us harm, climate change is trying to get to every one of them,” he said. “It’s surprising to me that we don’t take this more seriously.”

The World Health Organization has warned that the climate crisis “threatens to undo the last 50 years of progress in development, global health and poverty reduction” and has estimated that 250,000 more people will die each year from 2030 to 2050 due to of the proliferation of diseases. such as malaria and diarrhoea, as well as malnutrition and heat stress.

The new research is an “impressive haul of what’s been studied to show that climate shocks, in the aggregate, make our already daunting task of fighting microbes harder,” said Aaron Bernstein, director of the Center for Climate, Health and Environment. global environment from Harvard University, who did not participate in the study.

“Climate science has shown that climate change is making more parts of the world too hot, too dry, too wet, and ultimately too unsuitable for people to sustain their livelihoods,” Bernstein added.

“Mass migrations of people can lead to infectious outbreaks of all kinds, from meningitis to HIV. In short, an unstable climate creates fertile ground for infectious diseases to take root and spread.”

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