Climate Change will Fuel the Spread of Diseases




The impact of climate change has become increasingly apparent in recent years with rising temperatures and more extreme weather events; but there is another concerning climate effect that demands our immediate attention: the increasing risk of infectious diseases.


2023 smashes global temperature record (Image source: World Meteorological Organisation)

 

Climate change is driving shifts in temperature, precipitation patterns, and the frequency of extreme weather events.[1]These in turn are directly affecting the distribution and behavior of disease-carrying organisms, such as mosquitoes, ticks, and rodents. With warmer temperatures, these vectors can find more suitable living conditions for their survival and reproduction, resulting in larger populations and broader geographic ranges.[2] Changes in rainfall patterns can also create new breeding grounds of vectors, leading to new disease transmission dynamics.[3]

 

Vector-borne diseases, such as malaria, dengue fever, and Zika virus, are particularly susceptible to the influence of climate change. Rising temperatures, for example, can accelerate the rate at which pathogens reproduce and consequently the time required for disease transmission.[4] In addition, extended warm seasons and milder winters allow disease vectors to survive and remain active for longer periods, increasing the potential for human exposure.[5] As a result, regions that were previously unaffected by vector-borne diseases may now be at risk.


Lifecycle of the malaria parasite (Image source: SITN)

 

Climate change also impacts the spread of waterborne and foodborne diseases. Changes in precipitation patterns can lead to increased flooding, which can contaminate water sources and result in outbreaks of diseases like cholera, dysentery, and Hepatitis A.[6],[7]Additionally, warmer temperatures can spoil food quicker and facilitate the growth of bacteria, such as Salmonellaand E. coli.[8],[9]


Climate change and the increased risk of foodborne diseases (Image source: Public Health Agency of Canada)

 

All of these impacts disproportionately affect vulnerable populations, particularly those with limited access to healthcare and resources.[10] The recent COVID-19 pandemic showed how disease outbreaks can cause significant economic setbacks to developing countries.


Bangladesh faces record dengue outbreak in 2023 (Image source: BBC)

 

Addressing the connection between climate change and infectious diseases will need a multifaceted approach. Firstly, mitigation efforts are crucial to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit the extent of climate change and its associated health impacts. Secondly, adaptation strategies should focus on strengthening public health systems, improving disease surveillance, and implementing vector control measures.[11]Enhancing community awareness, supporting research on climate-disease relationships, and fostering international cooperation are also vital components to the response.

 

The evidence linking climate change to the spread of pathogenic diseases is clear. As our planet continues to warm, the public health risks are profound. Urgent action is required to mitigate climate change, as well as to strengthen healthcare systems and develop sustainable strategies to combat the expanding threat of diseases.



 


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