According to a research, climate risks such as floods, heat waves, and drought have exacerbated more than half of the hundreds of known infectious illnesses in humans, including malaria, hantavirus, cholera, and anthrax.
According to a study published Monday in the journal Nature Climate Change, researchers examined the medical literature of established cases of illnesses and discovered that 218 of the known 375 human infectious diseases, or 58%, appeared to be exacerbated by one of 10 types of extreme weather linked to climate change.
Doctors have traditionally linked sickness to weather, dating back to Hippocrates, but this research demonstrates how extensive climatic effect is on human health.
“If the climate changes, the risk of these illnesses changes,” said research co-author Dr. Jonathan Patz, head of the University of Wisconsin-Global Madison’s Health Institute.
Doctors like Patz believe that illnesses should be seen as indicators of a sick Earth.
“The outcomes of this study are scary,” said Dr. Carlos del Rio, an Emory University infectious disease expert who was not involved in the research. “Those of us in infectious diseases and microbiology must prioritize climate change, and we must all work together to avoid what will undoubtedly be a disaster as a consequence of climate change.”
In addition to infectious diseases, the researchers broadened their search to include all types of human illnesses, including non-infectious illnesses such as asthma, allergies, and even animal bites, to see how many maladies, including infectious diseases, they could link to climate hazards in some way. They discovered 286 distinct illnesses, 223 of which seemed to be exacerbated by climate hazards, nine of which appeared to be mitigated by climate hazards, and 54 of which had both aggravated and mitigated instances, according to the research.
The current research does not do the calculations to tie particular illness changes, likelihood, or magnitude to climate change, but rather identifies situations where severe weather was one of several factors. The research did map out the 1,006 links between climate risk and sickness.
The research’s primary author, Camilo Mora, a climate data analyst at the University of Hawaii, stressed that the study does not aim to anticipate future incidents.
“There is absolutely no guesswork here,” Mora said. “These are events that have already occurred.”
Mora has direct experience with one such case. Mora’s rural Colombian house was flooded around five years ago — for the first time in his recollection, water was in his living room, providing an excellent breeding environment for mosquitoes — and he acquired chikungunya, a deadly infection caused by mosquito bites. Even though he survived, he continues to suffer from joint discomfort years later.
Climate change may have unexpected consequences. Mora cites a 2016 example in Siberia in which a decades-old anthrax-infected reindeer corpse was discovered after the permafrost melted due to warming. A youngster touched it, became infected with anthrax, and spread the disease.
Mora first intended to investigate medical cases to discover whether COVID-19 interacted with climatic threats. He discovered instances when harsh weather both amplified and reduced the risks of COVID-19. In some instances, excessive heat caused people to gather in impoverished areas to cool down and get infected with the illness, while in other cases, torrential downpours inhibited COVID spread because people remained home and inside, away from others.
Kristie Ebi, a long-time climate and public health researcher at the University of Washington, expressed reservations about the study’s results and some of its methodologies. It is a well-known truth that the use of coal, oil, and natural gas has resulted in more frequent and severe extreme weather, and research has proven that weather patterns are linked to a variety of health conditions, she added.
“However, correlation is not the same as causation,” Ebi said in an email. “The authors did not examine the degree to which the climatic risks evaluated changed throughout the research period, or if any changes were linked to climate change.”
Dr. Aaron Bernstein, interim director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard School of Public Health, Emory’s del Rio, and three other outside experts, however, believe the research offers a good warning about climate and health now and in the future. Bernstein believes that this is especially true when global warming and habitat loss bring animals and their illnesses closer to people.
“This work highlights how climate change may stack the deck in favor of unpleasant viral shocks,” Bernstein said in an email. “Of course, it just reports on what we now know, and what is still unknown about pathogens may be much more compelling in terms of how avoiding further climate change may avert future calamities like COVID-19.”
A group of worldwide experts stated last week that the world has to start planning for the potential of a “climate endgame” as severe weather events continue to wreak havoc on the globe.
“I believe we are being naïve at the moment. We’re not considering the worst-case situations at all “According to Luke Kemp of Cambridge’s Centre for the Study of Existential Risk, one of the study’s authors.
Kemp and his colleagues’ paper warned of the potential of a climate-driven rise in infectious illnesses, as well as starvation, catastrophic weather events, and resource strife.
According to a 2021 estimate of the direct danger presented to mankind by climate change, about 500,000 people have perished in natural catastrophes due to severe weather occurrences in the previous 20 years.