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How climate change will affect your health

A new ...

Posted: Oct 12, 2018 12:01 PM
Updated: Oct 12, 2018 12:01 PM

A new report from the UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change warns of dire consequences if governments don't make "rapid, far-reaching, and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society" to stem global warming. But the planet isn't the only thing at risk as temperatures rise; your health might be in danger, too.

Here are six ways that climate change might affect you, whether it's insect-borne disease or Type 2 diabetes.

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An increase in disease-carrying mosquitoes and ticks

Hot and humid climates provide a perfect breeding ground for critters, and experts say that a warming world might put us at greater risk for vector-borne diseases, which are those transmitted by ticks, mosquitoes or other organisms.

In a 2017 report, the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health warned that "mosquitoes that carry diseases like West Nile virus and dengue fever thrive in conditions that are becoming more common, and there is concern that malaria could reemerge in the United States."

Environmental changes affect not just the distribution of insects like mosquitoes but also how quickly viruses replicate within them and how long the bugs live. All of that might have contributed to recent Zika virus outbreaks, according to the CDC.

More than 2,400 pregnant women in the United States have tested positive for Zika since 2015, and the United States has seen a rise in Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever and other vector-borne diseases. Only 27,388 such cases were reported in 2004, but that number jumped to 96,075 in 2016, according to a CDC report.

Contaminated water sources and dangerous bacterial infections

Extreme weather and rainfall have contributed to the spread of bacterial infections through contaminated water, especially in summer. Warmer temperatures will only make those storms worse.

Dr. Mona Sarfaty, director of the program on climate and health at George Mason University's Center for Climate Change Communication, said that "when increased rainfall leads to flooding, there can be a mixing of stormwater and sewage that leads to bacterial contamination in the water."

That contamination can affect crops too, contributing to foodborne diseases. "Heavy downpours and flooding can spread fecal bacteria and viruses into fields where food is growing," said a report from the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health.

"Warmer ocean water also makes a difference," Sarfaty said. "Along the coast, there are cases of bacterial contamination in shellfish in the warmer months that make those waters more likely to cause infection when people swim there, especially if they have open cuts in their skin."

An increase in mental health issues

Even a modest rise in temperatures is associated with an increase in mental health issues, according to a study published this year that surveyed nearly 2 million US residents. The research, in the journal PNAS, looked at individual cities and found that warming of just 1 degree over five years was linked to a 2% increase in mental health issues.

Using a different approach, the study also found that an increase in average monthly temperatures to over 30 degrees Celsius (86 Fahrenheit), up from an average of 25 to 30, was correlated with a 0.5% increase in mental health issues.

That might seem like a small change, but Nick Obradovich, the study's lead author and a scientist at MIT's Media Lab, noted that those results, if consistent across the country, "would produce approximately 2 million additional individuals reporting mental health difficulties."

Those challenges can turn deadly. A study published this year in the journal Nature Climate Change found that a rise of 1 degree Celsius in monthly temperatures correlated with a 0.68% increase in the United States suicide rate. Using that data, researchers estimate that climate change could be linked to over 14,000 suicides by 2050.

Though more research is needed to determine what exactly causes that increase in suicide, the study's lead author said economic factors or biological changes might be to blame.

"As economic conditions worsen, that might also worsen mental health," said Marshall Burke, an assistant professor in the Department of Earth System Science at Stanford University. There also might be "a plausible biological linkage between temperature, thermal regulation and how the brain regulates its own emotion."

An increase in Type 2 diabetes

Rising temperatures are associated with an increase in Type 2 diabetes, according to a 2017 study published in the journal BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care. However, researchers looked only at the correlation between temperatures and diabetes, so the study didn't establish that temperatures necessarily caused the disease.

Still, researchers found that diabetes rates increased by about 4% for every 1 degree Celsius of warming in the United States. Worldwide, glucose intolerance rose by 0.17% per degree Celsius of warming.

Lead study author Lisanne Blauw, a researcher at Leiden University Medical Center in the Netherlands, said that "a 1-degree Celsius rise in environmental temperature could account for more than 100,000 new diabetes cases per year in the USA alone."

Although calorie consumption and obesity are likely to be the biggest risk factors for diabetes, the study hypothesizes that warmer temperatures might decrease the activity of brown fat tissue, which burns fat and generates heat in colder weather.

"In warmer climates, brown fat may be less activated," Blauw said, "which may causally lead to insulin resistance and diabetes."

Respiratory problems and stroke

Most scientists agree that greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide are contributing to global warming, but those emissions aren't just hurting the planet. Fossil fuel pollutants can also generate a mixture of solid particles and liquid droplets in the atmosphere that can enter your lungs and even your bloodstream.

That mixture, called particulate matter, can aggravate asthma, decrease lung function and increase your risk of cardiovascular events such as strokes, according to a study published last year in The Lancet. That same study estimated that over 8 million people die early due to air pollution every year.

A warming planet also means more wildfires, which routinely release smoke that further worsens air quality. A 2011 report from the National Research Council found that a warming of just 1 degree Celsius could lead to a 400% increase in the area of land burned by wildfires.

But it's not just smoke and pollutants you're inhaling; it's pollen, too. Increases in carbon dioxide can trigger plants to produce more pollen, which might explain why the pollen season seems to get worse each year.

A 2012 study presented at the American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology conference estimated that pollen counts were expected to reach 21,735 grains per cubic meter in 2040. In 2000, that number was just 8,455.

More car crashes and fewer food inspections

Even small changes in climate can impact human behavior, leading to an increase in fatal car accidents and a decrease in food safety inspections, according to a study published this year in PNAS.

Researchers analyzed data from more than 70 million police stops, more than 500,000 motor vehicle accidents and nearly 13 million food safety violations.

They found that above 29 degrees Celsius (84 Fahrenheit), police conduct fewer traffic stops, which can contribute to unsafe driving conditions. A 10-degree Celsius increase in maximum temperatures decreased traffic stops by 1.5%, according to the study, and that same temperature change amplified the risk of a fatal car crash by half a percentage point.

The researchers also found that health officials were less likely to conduct food safety inspections when temperatures exceeded 26 Celsius (79 Fahrenheit). Across the 750,000 restaurants and food production facilities they studied, they found that a 10-degree increase in temperatures translated to 8,000 fewer inspections per day.

When those facilities were inspected, though, hotter temperatures led to more violations, probably because pathogens like E. coli and salmonella grow faster in warmer weather.

Obradovich, the MIT Media Lab research scientist who co-authored the study, noted that "hot temperatures are basically bad for human functioning." The crux of the idea, he said, was that "weather affects how we perform our duties and how we go about our daily lives and the risks that we experience."

Minnesota Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 587762

Reported Deaths: 7324
CountyCasesDeaths
Hennepin1217771724
Ramsey50848870
Dakota45493446
Anoka41276436
Washington26615280
Stearns22077221
St. Louis17637302
Scott17137124
Wright15873139
Olmsted1316498
Sherburne1157185
Carver1041645
Clay811792
Rice7991106
Blue Earth744441
Crow Wing658688
Kandiyohi650683
Chisago589051
Otter Tail571778
Benton563697
Goodhue474972
Mower463732
Douglas463674
Winona451850
Itasca428053
McLeod420258
Morrison416260
Isanti415364
Nobles407148
Beltrami391058
Steele383915
Polk382268
Becker377950
Lyon359250
Carlton343553
Freeborn340729
Pine326222
Nicollet322743
Brown304040
Mille Lacs300352
Le Sueur288222
Todd280432
Cass269028
Meeker253740
Waseca236222
Martin229731
Roseau207519
Wabasha20473
Hubbard186341
Dodge18313
Renville178643
Redwood172636
Houston171315
Cottonwood164221
Fillmore155310
Wadena154522
Pennington153619
Chippewa151638
Faribault151119
Kanabec143224
Sibley142310
Aitkin133936
Watonwan13189
Rock127819
Jackson121811
Pipestone114726
Yellow Medicine113820
Pope10916
Murray10609
Swift104818
Stevens90211
Marshall87817
Clearwater86116
Koochiching81715
Lake80819
Wilkin80412
Lac qui Parle75022
Big Stone5984
Lincoln5773
Grant5678
Mahnomen5459
Norman5399
Unassigned48693
Kittson48422
Red Lake3957
Traverse3685
Lake of the Woods3213
Cook1590

Iowa Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 365723

Reported Deaths: 5925
CountyCasesDeaths
Polk57406622
Linn20778334
Scott19903240
Black Hawk15777308
Woodbury15105228
Johnson1444083
Dubuque13347209
Dallas1114698
Pottawattamie11082168
Story1058248
Warren575088
Clinton552792
Cerro Gordo537889
Sioux513474
Webster511493
Marshall482075
Muscatine476299
Des Moines453266
Wapello4288122
Buena Vista424240
Jasper417771
Plymouth400480
Lee374255
Marion361075
Jones297357
Henry290837
Carroll285152
Bremer283360
Crawford265840
Boone263334
Benton255455
Washington253650
Dickinson247843
Mahaska229551
Jackson221142
Kossuth215264
Clay215125
Tama209171
Delaware208740
Winneshiek196834
Page192622
Buchanan190531
Cedar189223
Hardin184943
Fayette184741
Wright184236
Harrison179373
Hamilton179249
Clayton169456
Butler164634
Mills161722
Madison161419
Floyd160142
Cherokee158538
Lyon157541
Poweshiek154733
Allamakee150951
Iowa148224
Hancock147034
Winnebago141631
Cass137854
Calhoun137313
Grundy136233
Emmet134140
Jefferson132335
Shelby130537
Sac130119
Union128133
Appanoose127949
Louisa127849
Mitchell125842
Chickasaw123915
Guthrie120829
Humboldt118826
Franklin118121
Palo Alto112423
Howard104422
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Clarke99824
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Keokuk95531
Monroe95129
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Osceola78216
Greene77610
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