Climate change might bring an increase in disease-carrying mosquitoes and ticks
Contaminated water sources can spread dangerous bacterial infections
A new report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns of dire consequences if governments don’t make “rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” to stem global warming. But the planet isn’t the only thing at risk as temperatures rise; your health might be in danger, too.
Here are six ways that climate change might affect you, whether it’s insect-borne disease or Type 2 diabetes.
An increase in disease-carrying mosquitoes and ticks
Hot and humid climates provide a perfect breeding ground for critters, and experts say that a warming world might put us at greater risk for vector-borne diseases, which are those transmitted by ticks, mosquitoes or other organisms.
In a 2017 report, the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health warned that “mosquitoes that carry diseases like West Nile virus and dengue fever thrive in conditions that are becoming more common, and there is concern that malaria could reemerge in the United States.”
Environmental changes affect not just the distribution of insects like mosquitoes but also how quickly viruses replicate within them and how long the bugs live. All of that might have contributed to recent Zika virus outbreaks, according to the CDC.
More than 2,400 pregnant women in the United States have tested positive for Zika since 2015, and the United States has seen a rise in Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and other vector-borne diseases. Only 27,388 such cases were reported in 2004, but that number jumped to 96,075 in 2016, according to a CDC report.
Contaminated water sources and dangerous bacterial infections
Extreme weather and rainfall have contributed to the spread of bacterial infections through contaminated water, especially in summer. Warmer temperatures will only make those storms worse.
Dr. Mona Sarfaty, director of the program on climate and health at George Mason University’s Center for Climate Change Communication, said that “when increased rainfall leads to flooding, there can be a mixing of stormwater and sewage that leads to bacterial contamination in the water.”
That contamination can affect crops too, contributing to foodborne diseases. “Heavy downpours and flooding can spread fecal bacteria and viruses into fields where food is growing,” said a report from the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health.
“Warmer ocean water also makes a difference,” Sarfaty said. “Along the coast, there are cases of bacterial contamination in shellfish in the warmer months that make those waters more likely to cause infection when people swim there, especially if they have open cuts in their skin.”
An increase in mental health issues
Even a modest rise in temperatures is associated with an increase in mental health issues, according to a study published this year that surveyed nearly 2 million US residents. The research, in the journal PNAS, looked at individual cities and found that warming of just 1 degree over five years was linked to a 2% increase in mental health issues.
Using a different approach, the study also found that an increase in average monthly temperatures to over 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit), up from an average of 25 to 30, was correlated with a 0.5% increase in mental health issues.