Why does climate change influence the risk of infectious diseases?

Do you feel powerless when you hear about climate change in the news? Do you feel anxious when you hear about wildfires, droughts, famine, and water shortage? If you answered Yes to either question, you are not alone, according to a study conducted by scientists in the United States (U.S.), United Kingdom(U.K.), and Finland.

  • The study surveyed 10,000 young people 16 – 25 years of age, living in highly developed nations like Australia, Finland, France, Portugal, U.K., and the U.S., as well as less developed nations like Brazil, India, Nigeria, and Philippines.
    • Majority of survey respondents were worried about climate change, in addition to feeling angry, anxious, helpless, guilty, sad, and powerless.

All my blog posts are related to infections, with the main focus being on prevention. I am not breaking from tradition by talking about climate change. I am going to show how climate change can lead to increased risk of certain infections.

  • The purpose of this blog is to arm you with knowledge and prevention tips.
    • So here goes…

What do West Nile Virus disease and Lyme disease have in common?

  • They are both infections introduced by insect bites:
    • West Nile Virus disease is caused by a virus introduced by a mosquito bite 
    • Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium introduced by a tick bite

Both infections are on the rise in the U.S.

  • Milder winters, early springs, more rainfall, and hotter temperatures provide mosquitoes and ticks more months of moisture & warmth in a year, when they can reproduce and spread to humans.
  • Even if we were to avoid insect bites, there are other infections that thrive in warmer temperatures. Some of these include:

Valley fever, caused by a fungus which lives in soil in the southwestern U.S., and recently also found in south-central Washington.

  • Certain people can get Valley fever by breathing in the fungal spores from the air.
  • I will talk about Valley fever in a future blog post.

Dengue, caused by a mosquito-bite, is usually seen in several countries in the Caribbean (including Puerto Rico), Central and South America, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific Islands.

  • Local cases and limited spread is periodically seen in states with (1) hot & humid climates and (2) the mosquitoes that carry the Dengue virus:
    • Florida, Hawaii, and Texas.

As we head into hotter summers, Giardia could be a potential problem. My husband reminisces about swimming in lakes. As a microbiologist, I cringe when I hear that because lake water can contain the Giardia parasite.

  • How does the parasite get into these bodies of water?
  • Giardia can be found in soil – which is why washing your hands after gardening/landscaping, even if you had gloves on, is an important preventive measure.
  • People and animals can get infected with Giardia, and this parasite is then released in feces.
    • Consequently, water bodies, hands, surfaces, and objects can get contaminated with fecal matter and spread the parasite.

Coming back to swimming in lakes and ponds, don’t swallow the water.

  • More about Giardia in a future blog post. 

How can we handle the threat of these infectious diseases?

  • Stay tuned to this blog for ways to prevent various infectious disease threats.
  • In the meantime, please know that our immune systems have evolved to protect us from infections, auto-immune diseases, and threats like cancer.

How does one maintain a healthy immune system?

  • Pay attention to the fuel you put into your bodies – the nutrients, which can power you and cultivate the right community of helpful microorganisms (microbiome) in your gut.
  • Destress – no matter what form it takes, whether laughter therapy, dance, music, art, meditation, prayer, or hanging with friends.
    • More on this in a future blog post.

My students ask for my opinions on solutions to the climate crisis. Their questions prompted me to write my third book, ‘Lightning Noah – the next superhero,’ which is my quest to educate school children about the urgent need to mitigate climate change, and to show them simple ways they can all immediately start being more ecofriendly. They are after all going to be inheriting this planet from us. 

I would like to end this post with 5 ecofriendly action tips:

  1. Don’t let the tap water run while you brush your teeth; instead, fill up a glass with water and use that to rinse your toothbrush as well as your mouth.
  2. Use tap cold water in your wash cycle, and hang dry clothes when possible.
  3. Turn off lights and fans in rooms that are not being used.
  4. Take a shopping bag with you when shopping for groceries, books, retail, or anything else that is usually put in retail bags for you to bring home.
  5. Walk or take public transportation whenever you can and if it’s safe to do so.

I hope this post was informative and interesting.

  • If there is a particular infectious disease you want me to discuss, please put that in the comments section or email/text me. I would be happy to feature it in a future blog post.

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