The world is preoccupied with coronavirus, however, our health is also being impacted by climate change in a number of ways. There are a host of serious diseases that are being unleashed as the world continues to warm. Melting ice and rising seas are expected to add to the number of pathogens that undermine human health.
One of the most terrifying climate-related diseases is something called “zombie pathogens” that are being released from melting permafrost. These frightening diseases come from a resurgence of deadly bacteria and viruses that have been dormant for thousands of years. Warming temperatures have caused outbreaks of anthrax. In 2016 a Siberian outbreak of anthrax was linked to the thawing of a 75-year-old reindeer carcass which decimated reindeer herds and spread to people.. More anthrax outbreaks are expected as the world gets even warmer.
Smallpox is another disease that may see a resurgence. There are also other even more dangerous pathogens that may emerge from once frozen ice. In some cases, these are pathogens that have been dormant for tens of thousands of years. That means we may be plagued by diseases never before encountered by humans and this could be devastating. Some of these diseases are being stirred-up by the fossil fuel industry which is largely responsible for the climate crisis. Their extraction operations in the far north may actually unleash these microbes. Here are five other ways that climate change undermines human health.
- INSECT-BORNE DISEASE: More heat and water means more biting insects like mosquitoes and as a result, we will see the spread of diseases like zika, dengue, chikungunya, and malaria. Ticks, like those that cause Lyme disease and babesiosis, may also increase.
- WATER-BORNE DISEASE: Flooding contributes increases the likelihood of bacterial, viral, and parasitic organisms most of which can be spread by contaminated water. One of the most deadly water-borne diseases is cholera and such outbreaks are likely as the world warms.
- HEAT: We are seeing a growing number of hot days and protracted heat waves which can cause heatstroke and dehydration. This can be particularly deadly for older people and those with chronic conditions like diabetes, asthma, respiratory illness, kidney, and heart disease
- WILDFIRE: Climate change can cause increased heat and dryer conditions which are increasing the incidence of wildfires and the smoke they produce contributes to respiratory and cardiovascular distress.
- FOOD: Poor nutrition can undermine health and increasing temperatures on land and in the oceans are undermining food quality and contributing to food insecurity. Climate change decreases crop yields and increases the incidence of food-borne diseases.