News about climate change is everywhere these days. But climate change isn’t just bad for our planet’s health – it affects the health of people as well. The impacts of climate change can potentially affect human health by affecting the food we eat, the water we drink, the air we breathe, and the weather we experience. A report released last month from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns of severe consequences unless governments are willing and able to “make rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society” to curb global warning.
Here are some ways climate change will impact human health:
- Vectorborne Diseases. According to reports from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), tick- and mosquito-borne diseases have more than tripled since 2004. Hot and humid climates are ideal breeding grounds for these vectors.
- Increased contamination of water sources and increase in water-related illness. When extreme weather and increased rainfall lead to flooding, the likelihood of water source contamination increases due to mixing of stormwater and sewage. Rising sea levels also threatens freshwater supplies for people who live in low-lying areas.
- Rise in incidence of mental health issues. Any changes in a person’s physical health or surrounding environment can also have serious impacts on their mental health and may produce anxiety, depression, and an increase in suicide rates. A study published earlier this year in the journal PNAS which surveyed nearly 2 million US residents found that warming of just 1-degree Celsius over five years was linked to a 2% increase in mental health issues. If you’ve lived through a major weather event such as a hurricane, flood, or tornado, you can personally attest to the mental toll these events take.
- Increase in chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, respiratory problems, and stroke. While the reason for these increases is not completely clear, a researcher at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, published in a recent study that "a 1-degree Celsius rise in environmental temperature could account for more than 100,000 new diabetes cases per year in the USA alone." Fossil fuel pollutants can also generate a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets in the atmosphere that can enter your lungs and even your bloodstream. That mixture, called particulate matter, can aggravate asthma, decrease lung function and increase your risk of cardiovascular events such as strokes. More heat can also mean longer allergy seasons and more rainfall can lead to increased mold and other indoor pollutants.
- Increase in heat-related illness. Exposure to extreme heat can lead to heat stroke and/or dehydration. Population groups such as outdoor workers, student athletes, and homeless people are more vulnerable than others and lower-income families and older adults which lack adequate air conditioning are also at greater risk.
What can I do to protect myself and my family? Although the impacts of climate change have the potential to affect human health in the United States and around the world, there is a lot we can do to mitigate the effects. Understanding the threats that climate change poses to human health is the first step in working together to lower risks and be prepared.
Here are a few practical tips:
- Stay informed. Keep up-to-date on pending weather emergencies so you have adequate time to make any needed preparations. (See previous blog post on disaster preparedness.)
- Take precautions to avoid exposure to mosquitoes, ticks, and other insects which may carry disease.
- Be aware of your mental state. Watch for signs of stress or depression in yourself or loved ones and get help if needed.
- Listen to public service announcements during and after a weather emergency for local information on water and air quality and other health risks. These local news sources can provide important safety information as well on road and bridge damage and/or closures.
Finally, remember that Integrity Urgent Care is here for all your health needs. There’s never a need for an appointment, and all our locations are here for you 7 days a week from 8 am – 8 pm.
Azad A. How climate change will affect your health. CNN [online]. 12 Oct 2018 [accessed 29 Nov 2018]. https://www.cnn.com/2018/10/12/health/climate-change-health-effects/index.html
EPA [United States Environmental Protection Agency]. Climate impacts on human health. [accessed 30 Nov 2018]. https://19january2017snapshot.epa.gov/climate-impacts/climate-impacts-human-health_.html#main-content
National Geographic. Climate change: health risks [online]. [accessed 30 Nov 2018]. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/climate-change/how-to-live-with-it/health.html
Obradovich N, Migliorini R, Paulus MP, Rahwan I. Empirical evidence of mental health risks posed by climate change. PNAS [Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America] [online]. 23 Oct 2018 [accessed 29 Nov 2018]. http://www.pnas.org/content/115/43/10953