US Faces Growing Health Threats From Climate Change

Changes in climate and precipitation have fostered the spread of mosquitoes that can spread dengue fever in many areas of the United States, according to a new analysis. (Image: James Gathany/CDC)

The United States faces growing health threats from infectious disease, extreme weather, and air pollution as a result of climate change, according to an analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) published online today. Such effects are likely to be most pronounced in the Southeastern states, according to these findings.

The analysis of data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Climatic Data Center found that because of climate change, about half of the states are at risk of dengue fever outbreaks. Dengue fever viruses, which are transmitted by certain species of mosquitos, can cause infections with symptoms that may include high fever, headache, rash, pain, vomiting, and achy muscles and joints. In some cases, infection may result in dengue hemorrhagic fever, which also involves the development of blood spots under the skin and potentially fatal shock.

At least 28 states already have been colonized by the mosquitoes that can transmit the virus, and an estimated 173.5 million individuals live in these areas. Continued shifts in local climate and precipitation may increase the vulnerability of these areas to the spread of dengue, according to the analysis. But despite this growing concern, only 3 of the states at greatest risk—Florida, Maryland, and Virginia—have a plan in place for dealing with this potential health threat.

Other potential health risks related to climate change documented in the analysis include heat exhaustion and other complications related to extreme heat events, injuries caused by flooding, or exacerbations of asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease caused by increased smog, noted Jeremy Hess, MD, MPH, assistant professor of emergency medicine in Emory University’s schools of Medicine and Public Health in Atlanta, during a press briefing.

“Local communities need to be better prepared,” said Kim Knowlton, PhD, a senior scientist at the NRDC and assistant clinical professor of environmental health at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York. “There are steps that can be taken.”

The NRDC has posted maps online that allow individuals and public health officials to assess local risks. Additionally, the site provides information on what is included in the preparedness plans of states who have already begun planning for these climate change risks, which can serve as templates for other states or local areas, according to Knowlton.

Categories: Emergency Medicine, Infectious Diseases, Injury Prevention & Control, Public Health, Pulmonary Diseases