Is Climate Change Increasing The Spread Of Disease?

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There’s been much talk in recent years about how the changing climate might affect things like sea levels, wildlife habitats, etc. But one aspect of climate change that often gets overlooked is the potential for an increase in disease. New research by specialists in the field of infectious disease study suggests that diseases like cholera, which are practically unheard of in the developed world, could theoretically make a comeback. Rising temperatures may lead to an increased geographic distribution of harmful pathogens.

 

Understanding the Relationship Between Climate and Diseases

If you live in a temperate zone like Europe, Japan, or most of the continental United States, you probably tend to think of a certain group of illnesses as “normal” and others as more exotic and frightening. In these latitudes, respiratory illnesses like the common cold, the flu and pneumonia tend to be common. While these diseases are taken seriously, they generally don’t cause people to panic. In the tropical regions of the world, however, things tend to be a little different. In these countries, gastrointestinal afflictions like parasites, diarrhea and the like tend to be more common (although people certainly do get colds in those regions as well).

The point is that in any given region of the world, the people living there tend to be familiar with a certain suite of illnesses. It doesn’t occur to most of them that a disease normally associated with part of the world that has a different climate might show up where they live. This is part of the reason why the media panics every time a “new” illness appears in a place where it doesn’t normally occur. A perfect example of this was the outbreak of the Zika virus throughout Latin America in 2015, and before that the Ebola outbreak, and before that there was West Nile virus, swine flu, bird flu—the list goes on…

Part of the reason this happens is because fast and inexpensive international travel by air allows infected people to spread disease much faster and farther than was ever possible prior to the twentieth century. But more and more scientists and climatologists are becoming concerned over the role that changing climates might have over where disease outbreaks occur.

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