Global warming has inflicted its fair share of damage on the planet in recent years, but one problem growing in scope and severity is a growing cause for concern. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), diseases once specific to developing countries are spreading into more temperate climates as a result of global warming.
There has been much discussion about the role global warming plays (if any) in the spread of disease, but there is no denying warmer temperatures and greater moisture result in a higher rate of infections. Disease-magnets like mosquitoes and rodents thrive in such conditions, and Matador.org has highlighted the five biggest troublemakers popping up in unexpected territory.
Malaria: This mosquito-borne disease is caused by the Plasmodium parasite, and symptoms include fever, chills, and flu-like illness. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), there are over 350-500 million reported cases of malaria worldwide, and out of the over one million people who die from lack of treatment, most are young children in sub-Saharan Africa.
The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) projects that warmer temperatures will put 65% of the world's population at risk of infection-an increase of 20%. This news is especially frightening in light of increased resistance to the chloroquine treatment drugs. Malaria has already hit Texas, New Jersey, Michigan, and New York. - Matador.org
Dengue Fever: Also known as breakbone fever, this is another mosquito-borne illness that instead stems from the Flavivirus virus. Similar to malaria, symptoms include muscle and joint pain, rashes, abdominal pain, nausea, vomiting and diarrhea. Because there is no vaccine, dengue fever is a great threat to humans not only in tropical and subtropical regions, but as far north as Chicago and the Netherlands thanks to rising temperatures.
Encephalitis: Often triggered by meningitis, Lyme disease, and other parasitic or protozoal infestations, encephalitis is an acute inflammation of the brain most commonly known in the form of West Nile Virus (WNV). Symptoms include fever, drowsiness, stiff neck, loss of appetite, and disorientation. WNV has been making headlines for years, and new cases have sprouted up all over the United States and Europe.
Bubonic Plague: Most famous for its death and destruction during medieval times, the Bubonic plague is an infection of the lymphatic system triggered from a flea bite. Swollen lymph nodes are the most common symptom, as well as continuous vomiting of blood, sore limbs, and discolored spots on the skin.
A study in the American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene reports a 60% rise in plague cases in New Mexico following wetter than average winters and springs. Wetter conditions enhance food resources for rodents and promote flea survival and reproduction. - Matador.org
Cholera: An acute illness caused by the bacterium Vibrio cholerae, symptoms include diarrhea, vomiting, and leg cramps. While not all cases are considered severe, cholera is of great concern because it is a waterborne disease that becomes more frequent with increasing water temperatures - one of the most common effects of global warming.
Global warming's full role may yet to be determined, but there is no doubt that its effect on human health is cause for alarm worldwide. It is important to note that many scientists are wary of linking the spread of disease with global warming as there is not enough empirical data to back up the claim at this time. The vast number of variables in the mathematical formulas used to determine these trends make it a challenging endeavor - though not a wasted one.
At the IOM conference, Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, voiced his frustration with these limitations in demonstrating cause and effect. "We are struggling to prove it with scientific data, and we can't," he said. "We don't need West Nile virus to know we are in deep doo-doo. ... [I]f we are trying to solve it on individual studies, we will be in the court of science for a long, long time, and then it will be too late." - Slate
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