Climate change and health
Global warming can make you sick
The 2019 Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change Report on mitigating climate change describes the effects of global warming as making for a more topsy turvy and extreme world. Some parts of the world are experiencing more frequent and extreme droughts. This includes parts of South American, West Asia and Northeastern Asia, much of Africa and the Mediterranean. Desertification of some parts of the world has been a problem for generations, and it looks like climate change is exacerbating the process. Dust storms, like the ones that besieged the Great Plains states during the 1930s, are now more frequent and intense in the Arabian Peninsula and throughout the rest of the Middle East, and Central Asia.
All of these events are expected to continue and possibly worsen though the rest of the 21st century. Besides the environmental effects, these more extreme weather events are also affecting human health.
Hot hot hot
Heat-related mortality has been declining in many industrialized countries in recent decades. This may be due to more people having access to air conditioning and cooler workplaces. Yet the warming world could reverse this trend. Heat stresses the body, and it also stresses mental health as well. One recent study predicts that the higher temperatures that much of the United States and Mexico are beginning to experience could lead to an additional 9,000 to 40,000 suicide deaths by 2050.
The rough and backbreaking work of U.S. farmworkers is expected to become more hazardous to the workers’ health, with the risk to their health resulting from heat expected to double within the next three decades and triple by the end of the century.
Drought and desertification are expected to lead to more dust and particulate matter in the atmosphere, which have detrimental effects on respiratory health and can even lead to death. Besides the immediate effects, too much dust entering the respiratory tract can lead to the spread of contagious respiratory disease, such as meningitis. The increasing wildfires are starting to affect respiratory health as well, leading to more hospitalizations, emergency room visits, and physicians visits for asthma.
A number of studies have linked climate change with an increase in childhood diarrhea. In one recent study, researchers from the U.S. National Institute of Environmental Health, a research branch of the National Institutes of Health, found that the increased heat as well as the increased rainfall—as well as the increased intensity of the rainfall—caused by global heating contributed to an upsurge in childhood diarrhea in the southern region of India.
The scientists studied children in 25 villages in the Tamil Nadu region of India. The children ranged in age from infancy to five years, with the study being conducted over a two year period.
Previous studies in southern India have linked rainfall, particularly heavy rainfall, and childhood diarrhea. In this more recent study, childhood diarrhea was almost three times higher during the hottest weeks of the year than during the coolest. A similar increase occurred when heavy rains followed a dry spell of 60 days or more.
According to the World Health Organization, a number of bacterial, viral, or parasitic organisms can cause diarrhea. They can be transmitted by contaminated food, drinking water, or from person to person as a result of poor hygiene.
Severe diarrhea can cause dehydration and can result in death, particularly for young children or individuals who are malnourished or who have impaired immunity. Currently, there are about 1.7 billion cases of childhood diarrhoea worldwide every year. Diarrhea is the second leading cause of death among children under five, taking the lives of around 525,000 young children every year.
The yearly weather cycle of Tamil Nadu is one of months of hot, dry weather, followed by monsoons. During the dry months, human and animal feces accumulate in the soil. It is well known that a lot of people who live in Tamil Nadu defecate out of doors and do not use a bathroom or latrine. The first rains of the monsoon season flush the waste into surface water. Pathogens also stay in the mud, and young kids can wind up playing in that mud.
In Tamil Nadu villagers pump groundwater for drinking and other uses. The water is stored in elevated storage tanks. The scientists believe that the residents of the area contaminate the stored water when they handle the tanks or otherwise handle water with contaminated hands.
Other parts of the world are also experiencing the same climate change driven problems as Tamil Nadu. Back in 2001, scientists looking at the Pacific Islands found a link between a greater incidence of diarrhea and increased rainfall and warmer weather.
Scientists found a similar link in Botswana, but in this case drier, not wetter, weather was associated with an increase of diarrhea. The scientists think that the increase in flies that come about during the dry months serve as vectors for the diarrhea pathogens.
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