How climate change will affect your health

A new report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has warned of dire consequences if governments do not make ‘rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society’ to stem global warming.

And, in response, a documentary done by cable news television – the CNN, indicated the planet isn’t just the only thing at risk as temperatures rise; your health might actually be in danger too.

In reality, the CNN showed in the documentary, six ways that climate change might affect the health of humans – either through insect-borne diseases or Type 2 diabetes.

1. Climate change could cause an increase in disease-carrying mosquitoes and ticks

The documentary stated that hot and humid climates provide a perfect breeding ground for critters, and experts spoken to about this say that a warming world might put humans at greater risk for vector-borne diseases, which are those transmitted by ticks, mosquitoes or other organisms.

Similarly, in a 2017 report of the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health, it 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 re-emerge in the United States.’

Accordingly, 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. The CNN quoted the Centre for Disease Control (CDC) to have noted that all of that might have contributed to recent Zika virus outbreaks.

Also, 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. Indeed, the CNN added that Rocky Mountain spotted fever and other vector-borne diseases. The CDC, it explained, found that while only 27,388 such cases were reported in 2004, the number however jumped to 96,075 in 2016.

For Nigeria, a 2017 report of the International Journal of Research in Pharmacy and Biosciences, stated that malaria remained the leading cause of death in Nigeria with approximately 227,645 deaths in 1990 and 192,284 deaths recorded in 2015.

From the journal, OGN considered that malaria which is transmitted by mosquitoes, is a major public health concern because it is the major cause of maternal mortality. A warming earth will in this regards increase the risk for Nigeria.

2. More contaminated water sources and dangerous bacterial infections

The CNN equally stated that extreme weather and rainfall have contributed to the spread of bacterial infections through contaminated water, especially in summer. In this regards, 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 to the cable network that, “when increased rainfall leads to flooding, there can be a mixing of storm water and sewage that leads to bacterial contamination in the water.”

That contamination, the report noted can affect crops too, contributing to foodborne diseases.

“Heavy downpours and flooding can spread faecal bacteria and viruses into fields where food is growing,” said a report from the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health.

In Nigeria, the impacts are already seen with incessant flooding and overflow of contaminated water sources and bacterial infections. This could impact food production in affected regions of the country.

3. An increase in mental health issues

The CNN documentary, also explained that even a modest rise in temperatures is associated with an increase in mental health issues. It referenced a study published this year which surveyed nearly two million US residents. The research, in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS), looked at individual cities and found that warming of just one degree over five years was linked to a two per cent 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 per cent increase in mental health issues.

It said that might seem like a small change, but quoted Nick Obradovich, the study’s lead author and a scientist at MIT’s Media Lab, to have stated that those results, if consistent across the country, “would produce approximately two million additional individuals reporting mental health difficulties.”

Further, a study published this year in the journal Nature Climate Change found that a rise of one degree Celsius in monthly temperatures correlated with a 0.68 per cent increase in the United States suicide rate. Using that data, researchers estimate that climate change could be linked to over 14,000 suicides by 2050.

It added that though more research is needed to determine what exactly causes that increase in suicide, but the study’s lead author said economic factors or biological changes might be to blame.

“As economic conditions worsen, that might also worsen mental health,” said Marshall Burke, an assistant professor in the Department of Earth System Science at Stanford University, adding there also might be “a plausible biological linkage between temperature, thermal regulation and how the brain regulates its own emotion.”

4. An increase in Type 2 diabetes

Continuing, the CNN documentary stated that rising temperatures are associated with an increase in Type 2 diabetes. To buttress its claims, it referenced a 2017 study published in the journal BMJ Open Diabetes Research and Care, but noted that researchers have however looked only at the correlation between temperatures and diabetes, thus the study didn’t establish that temperatures necessarily caused the disease.

Still, the CNN explained researchers found that diabetes rates increased by about four per cent for every one degree Celsius of warming in the United States.

It added that worldwide, glucose intolerance rose by 0.17 per cent per degree Celsius of warming.

According to lead study author Lisanne Blauw, a researcher at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, “a 1-degree Celsius rise in environmental temperature could account for more than 100,000 new diabetes cases per year in the USA alone.”

The CNN further quoted the study to have noted that although calorie consumption and obesity are likely to be the biggest risk factors for diabetes, warmer temperatures might decrease the activity of brown fat tissue, which burns fat and generates heat in colder weather.

5. Respiratory problems and stroke could increase

The CNN stated that most scientists agree that greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are contributing to global warming, but those emissions aren’t just hurting the planet.

According to it, fossil fuel pollutants can also generate a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets in the atmosphere that can enter the lungs and even bloodstreams of humans. That mixture, called particulate matter, can thus aggravate asthma, decrease lung function and increase risk of cardiovascular events such as strokes.

Further, the CNN said that a study published last year in The Lancet, estimated that over eight million people die early due to air pollution every year. It added that a warming planet also means more wildfires, which routinely release smoke that further worsens air quality.

Accordingly, a 2011 report from the National Research Council found that a warming of just one degree Celsius could lead to a 400 per cent increase in the area of land burned by wildfires.

However, it’s not just smoke and pollutants that humans would be inhaling but pollen as well because increases in carbon dioxide can trigger plants to produce more pollen, which might explain why the pollen season seems to get worse each year.

The CNN referenced a 2012 study presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology conference and which estimated that pollen counts were expected to reach 21,735 grains per cubic meter in 2040, a number that was just 8,455 in 2000.

6. There could be more car crashes and fewer food inspections

Even small changes in climate can impact human behaviour, leading to an increase in fatal car accidents and a decrease in food safety inspections, a study published this year in PNAS has explained.

According to the CNN, researchers analyzed data from more than 70 million police stops, more than 500,000 motor vehicle accidents and nearly 13 million food safety violations. They found that above 29 degrees Celsius (84 Fahrenheit), police conduct fewer traffic stops, which can contribute to unsafe driving conditions.

The PNAS study according to CNN, also showed that a 10-degree Celsius increase in maximum temperatures decreased traffic stops by 1.5 per cent, and that same temperature change amplified the risk of a fatal car crash by half a percentage point.

The researchers also found that health officials were less likely to conduct food safety inspections when temperatures exceeded 26 Celsius (79 Fahrenheit), adding that across the 750,000 restaurants and food production facilities they studied, they found that a 10-degree increase in temperatures translated to 8,000 fewer inspections per day.

The study stated that when those facilities were inspected, though, hotter temperatures led to more violations, probably because pathogens like E.coli and salmonella grow faster in warmer weather.

Further, Obradovich, the MIT Media Lab research scientist who co-authored the study, noted that, “hot temperatures are basically bad for human functioning.” The crux of the idea, he said, was that “weather affects how we perform our duties and how we go about our daily lives and the risks that we experience.”