Climate change exacerbates infectious diseases, studies find

Climate change has already had a massive impact on crops and agriculture, but the health care sector is bracing itself for an onslaught of infectious diseases.

The Nature Climate Change study reveals that “58% (that is, 218 out of 375) of infectious diseases confronted by humanity worldwide have been at some point aggravated by climatic hazards; 16% were at times diminished.” The growth of infectious diseases and the escalation of non-infectious diseases due to climate change were both facilitated by more than 1,000 different pathways, the study says.

Climate change is partially to blame for antimicrobial-resistant fungi, which “represent the greatest threat to public health,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Factors contributing to the rise in fungal infections include antibiotic and antimicrobial overuse, notably during the pandemic, and climate change, which is leading to “increased incidence and geographic range” as fungi adapt to higher temperatures, the WHO highlights.

Bacteria have also spread further due to climate change. A Bio.News article reports that Burkholderia pseudomallei is generally indigenous to considerably warmer climes, yet the prevalence of bacterial illness is shifting in the United States due to the rapid pace of climate change. Diseases that were previously unheard of in the United States are now prevalent, similar to these specific bacteria on the Gulf Coast.

Due to rising temperatures and a rise in tick activity, the prevalence of Lyme disease has increased by 357% in rural regions between 2007 and 2021 and by 65% in urban areas.

There is a similar situation with dengue, which affects half of the world’s population and claims 20,000 lives annually (mainly children), with numbers, predicted to climb as mosquito populations rise.

“As the planet heats up, animals big and small, on land and in the sea, are headed to the poles to get out of the heat. That means animals are coming into contact with other animals they normally wouldn’t, and that creates an opportunity for pathogens to get into new hosts,” said Harvard researchers about the role of climate change in the spread of COVID-19.

“The human pathogenic diseases and transmission pathways aggravated by climatic hazards are too numerous for comprehensive societal adaptations, highlighting the urgent need to work at the source of the problem: reducing GHG emissions,” according to researchers at the University of Hawaii.

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