Climate change could trigger deadly disease epidemics, researchers say

Delila James | @@delilalaw| August 27, 2014

Climate change could trigger deadly disease epidemics, researchers say

The world is likely to see a comeback of deadly infectious diseases as a result of global warming.

Deadly tropical diseases, like dengue fever, are likely to spread as a result of global warming, according to researchers at the University of East Anglia in the UK.

One little-discussed question regarding the possible effects of climate change is how viruses and other infectious microbes will react to warmer, more humid temperatures around the globe. Now, however, a newly published article in the journal BMC Public Health takes a serious look at the major climatic influences on the ecology of dengue fever, a viral disease endemic to tropical and subtropical climates.

Dengue fever is transmitted between people by mosquitoes (Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus), according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the U.S. The illness kills some 12,000 people worldwide and sickens about 50 million annually.

The researchers studied data from Mexico on the occurrence and spread of dengue fever according to climate variables, such as temperature and rainfall, along with various socioeconomic factors, such as income and population density. Using computer modeling, they looked at the predicted rate of infection across a number of European regions over the next 100 years.

Alarmingly, the scientists found that in some areas, cases of dengue fever are predicted to increase five-to-10 fold, mostly in the Po Valley, located in the northeastern part of Italy, and in the coastal regions of the Mediterranean and Adriatic seas.

People living in the United States also are at risk for catching dengue fever, according to a study published last year in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives. There, researchers found that while the U.S. traditionally had only a few hundred reported cases a year, the mosquitoes responsible for the spread of dengue fever are now found in 28 states.

In the U.S., infectious diseases have been almost completely eliminated as a result of modern sanitation, better nutrition, and vaccination. Now, scientists are warning that the deadly epidemics of the past could stage a comeback if the world fails to take meaningful action to reduce the amount of greenhouse gases currently being emitted into Earth’s atmosphere as a result of human activities.

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