Climate warning about threat of big rise in pathogen infections

Contributed by Ben Wilson

Researchers at the University of Hawaii have found that climate change is magnifying exposure to diseases caused by pathogens, like Zika, malaria, dengue, chikungunya and even Covid-19. This is because of the increasing frequency and severity of heatwaves, fires, and extreme rainfall and floods.

The study was published this week in Nature.

The rising temperature is changing weather patterns, and this creates an environment where pathogens thrive and for carriers like mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas that spread diseases like malaria, Lyme disease, West Nile virus. Floods bring a rise is cases of gastroenteritis, cholera, Legionnaires disease pneumonia, and hepatitis, and drought brings dysentery, typhoid, and other diseases because of shortages of water.

Image from NOAA: Increasing frequency and severity of extreme weather events is raising the risk of infections

Poorer nations have been hit hardest. But wealthier nations like Australia cannot escape an environment favouring the spread of these pathogens. Global warming is already set to rise by more than 1.5 degree centigrade. Imagine the impact is it rises substantially more than this, which will be the result if the current reluctance of governments to act sufficiently continues.

A rising climate changes the capacity of the human body to adjust, damages the infrastructure needed to deal with health challenges, forces populations into conditions that increase infection exposure. The risk of increasing food and water insecurity leads to malnourishment and greater risk of disease.

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 an additional 250,000 people will die each year.

It is stating the obvious to say that the health risk of climate change is not being taken anywhere near seriously enough. This must change. A global approach to this is ultimately needed. But we can do something within our own nations. Australia, for example, already has a quite extensive health system. This could be upgraded to purposely prepare for what is coming.

Much more can be done to reduce carbon emissions into the atmosphere and to cut back the export fossil fuels to other parts of the world. Australia could be an ambassador for more collective global action. The new Albanese government has made positive moves towards carbon reduction. This is only a start. There is a long way to go yet.

1 Comment on "Climate warning about threat of big rise in pathogen infections"

  1. Jeffrey Passlow | 14 August 2022 at 3:59 pm | Reply

    Yes, climate change will no doubt favour the vectors of the above mentioned infectious diseases. Perhaps what is more concerning is the rapid rise in antibiotic resistant bacteria. Most certainly a product of mankind (Again!). Imagine, going to your doctor, to be diagnosed with Meningococcal meningitis and having NO antibiotic that is going to work against it. Or a simple Staph infection with the same opinion. Climate change having a role to play? Unlikely. Just mankind’s stupidity.

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