The Effect of Climate Change on Public Health
Climate change has been widely known to affect habitats and ocean levels for decades now. From California wildfires to hurricanes in East Asia, the decline of many global ecosystems is one consequence of the warming atmosphere. Yet, amongst the flames and waves, a danger even more deadly exists.
It is known that contaminated food and water can be deadly to humans, but recent shifts in climate can significantly alter how these pathogens spread. Increasing avenues for bacterial exposure to humans makes the spread of disease no longer preventable, as the bacteria’s path is now unknown, leading to an increase in food-related illnesses. Norovirus is a common virus that is known to travel through water and edible marine life and can cause severe symptoms such as vomiting and diarrhea. The virus is common between the months of November to April, but the ever-changing exposure pathways can take the predictability of a fixed time frame out of the equation.
A similar story follows Campylobacter, a type of bacteria that can be found in several types of meat and water, with symptoms including diarrhea, fever, and stomach cramps. There has been a notable increase in outbreaks across the past decade, which can be directly connected to Earth's rising temperatures. Other illnesses that are influenced by floods and hurricanes include the waterborne parasite Cryptosporidium, and Non-cholera Vibrio Species, a type of bacteria that thrives in warm water. These illnesses can cause a host of symptoms like diarrhea, fever, and vomiting. All of these water-based pathogens are experiencing an increase in human contact as climate change progresses.
What factors of climate change could be contributing to these increasing exposure pathways? Warming temperatures melt Antarctic ice, resulting in higher global sea levels. Heavy rainfall due to rising sea levels affects precipitation patterns, causing periods of extreme drought. Prolonged precipitation increases the risk of flooding, and as ocean levels continue to increase, infected bodies of water leak into drinking and bathing water, increasing human contact with these diseases.
Climate change is not just about severe weather events. It is heavily involved in the condition of public health and can have a significant impact on the human population. By taking steps to make the planet greener, you can help lessen the spread of disease and save lives.