By Samantha Calderazzo
It’s hard to think of climate change as having drastic consequences when they are happening so far away and that’s the problem with the modern world. It’s easy to brush aside something that isn’t affecting one’s own life and make the connection to a long drawn out process, but this denial has procrastinated for so long it may be too late to stop the issues and time to deal with them face on.
As the Earth warms and climates become more humid the risk for infectious disease climbs. Outbreaks such as the current Zika epidemic will continue to spread like wild fire thanks to the mosquito favoring conditions. Since 1998 rates of mostly abolished diseases in the US have begun to see a rise in cases, such as the Dengue fever outbreak in Florida in 2009, which was the first it saw in 40 years. Further, the ZIka virus is proving to be one of the fastest spreading outbreaks amounting to 4 million cases in 8 months and currently active in 23 countries. Yet, it’s not even the first of its kind, there has been an unsettling trend of mosquito-borne illnesses spreading into new and unexpected regions. For example, the chikungunya virus made its first appearance in the Western Hemisphere in 2013 and in Florida in 2015.
Mosquitos thrive in hot humid areas so as climate change warms the Earth, disease seasons last longer and mosquitos can now travel farther than anticipated, as can be seen with worldwide statistics, most nonindigenous species of mosquitos were introduced to regions in the last 20 years. Heavy rain in particular is a huge risk factor since humidity and standing water attracts the vector. The first case of Zika arose in Brazil shortly after a drought which ironically appealed to mosquito vectors due to standing storage of water. But, warm temperatures and humidity throughout the continent nurtured its spread as Latin America has seen world record temperatures this past year. Moreover, these circumstances further thrive viruses allowing more opportunities for evolution and pick up by the increasing number of mosquitos. Dealing with global disease will no longer be the same since epidemics will flourish and spread more quickly and farther due to vector welcoming climates and increased capability of adaptation. So while trying to create better lives we’ve risked the health of everyone on the planet and whether or not we slow industrial pollution we’ve already set things in motion.
So what are the consequences?
Evolving viruses can become immune to treatments and more aggressive in their symptoms pushing for faster and more efficient upgrades in drug research. Mosquitos will hang around for longer periods and warmer temperatures will encourage people to be outside with exposed skin. People resistant to accepting vaccines will increase the risk of an entire population having an outbreak of something that may seem a problem of the past.
Although, if temperatures continue to rise some areas will exceed the limits of vector habitats and may be eliminated of some disease issues, while those who typically don’t worry will need to prepare for the possibility of high disease rates. But, vector diseases are not the only concern. The CDC states “In the U.S., public health can be affected by disruptions of physical, biological, and ecological systems, including disturbances originating here and elsewhere”. A myriad of effects include an increase in the world wide prevalence of water borne diseases, bacterial infections, allergens, air pollution, and even mental illnesses from changes in temperature and weather patterns.
It is no coincidence that Zika has arisen from the ashes of climate change and it’s time to admit this is a global health problem because the localized penalties, that have made it so easy to hide, will not remain local in the matter of disease with the expansion of vector environments and lengthening of disease time courses. This should be a wakeup call.
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