Nav: Home

CU Anschutz researchers say climate change may accelerate infectious disease outbreaks

October 12, 2017

AURORA, Colo. (October 12, 2017) - Aside from inflicting devastating natural disasters on often vulnerable communities, climate change can also spur outbreaks of infectious diseases like Zika , malaria and dengue fever, according to a new study by researchers at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus.

"Climate change presents complex and wide-reaching threats to human health," said Cecilia Sorensen, MD, lead author of the study and the Living Closer Foundation Fellow in Climate and Health Policy at CU Anschutz. "It can amplify and unmask ecological and socio-political weaknesses and increase the risk of adverse health outcomes in socially vulnerable regions."

When natural disasters strike such places, she said, the climatic conditions may make the public health crisis significantly worse.

The researchers said these vulnerabilities can happen anywhere. After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans, cases of West Nile disease doubled the next year. Climate change in Africa appears to be increasing cases of malaria. And the recent destruction in Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico due to hurricanes may usher in more infectious diseases in the years ahead.

The study focused specifically on a magnitude 7.7 earthquake that struck coastal Ecuador in April 2016, coinciding with an exceptionally strong El Niño event. El Niños are associated with heavy rainfall and warmer air temperatures. They are also linked to outbreaks of dengue fever.

Sorensen, a clinical instructor in emergency medicine at CU Anschutz, was in Ecuador with her co-authors working with the Walking Palms Global Initiative. They were operating a mobile health clinic after the disaster.

"We were seeing all of these viral symptoms in the wake of the quake," she said. "We noticed a huge spike in Zika cases where the earthquake occurred. Prior to this, there were only a handful of Zika cases in the whole country." In fact, the researchers found the number of Zika cases had increased 12-fold in the quake zone.

Zika virus is transmitted by mosquitos. Symptoms are usually mild but the infection can cause major abnormalities and even death in a developing fetus.

Warmer temperatures and increased rainfall from the El Niño, along with a devastated infrastructure and an influx of people into larger cities, likely caused the spike in Zika cases, Sorensen said.

"We saw so many people affected by the earthquake that were sleeping outside without any shelter from mosquitoes, so we were worrying that the region's changing climate could facilitate the spread of diseases," she said. "Natural disasters can create a niche for emerging diseases to come out and affect more people."

Sorensen's team reviewed the existing research on the link between short-term climate changes and disease transmission. They applied those findings to explain the role of the earthquake and El Niño in the Zika outbreak.

The researchers suggest El Niño created ideal conditions for Zika-carrying mosquitos to breed and make more copies of the Zika virus. The warmer temperatures and increased rainfall from El Niño have previously been associated with a higher likelihood of dengue outbreaks. Warmer temperatures can also accelerate viral replication in mosquitoes and influence mosquitos' development and breeding habits.

At the same time, the El Niño event brought warmer sea-surface temperatures, which have been shown to correlate with outbreaks of mosquito-transmitted diseases. Estimates from remote sensing data in coastal Ecuador show that sea-surface temperatures were higher than average from 2014-2016.

The team also believes an increase in water scarcity after the earthquake indirectly benefited mosquito development. The quake damaged municipal water systems, forcing people to store water in open containers outside their homes. These served as additional habitats for mosquito larvae.

The new findings could be used by governments to identify and protect vulnerable communities before natural disasters happen, Sorensen said.

"One idea is to develop disease models that can use existing climate models to predict where these vectors will show up due to climate variability," she said. "Applying these new models to areas that have pre-existing social vulnerabilities could identify susceptible regions, allowing us to direct healthcare resources there ahead of time."
The study was published October 12 in GeoHealth, a publication of the American Geophysical Union.

The co-authors of the study from CU Anschutz include Emilie Calvello-Hynes, MD, assistant professor of emergency medicine and Jay Lemery, MD, associate professor of emergency medicine and chief of wilderness and environmental medicine.

The other co-authors include: Mercy J. Borbor-Cordova, Faculty of Naval Engineering, Oceanic Sciences and Natural Resources, Escuela Superior Politecnica del Litoral, Guayaquil, Ecuador; Avriel Diaz, Dept. of Evolution, Ecology and Environmental Biology, Columbia University; Anna M. Stewart-Ibarra, Department of Public Health and Preventative Medicine, SUNY Upstate Medical University, Syracuse, NY.

This paper is a collaboration of the University of Colorado Consortium for Climate Change and Health.

University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus

Related Climate Change Articles:

The black forest and climate change
Silver and Douglas firs could replace Norway spruce in the long run due to their greater resistance to droughts.
For some US counties, climate change will be particularly costly
A highly granular assessment of the impacts of climate change on the US economy suggests that each 1°Celsius increase in temperature will cost 1.2 percent of the country's gross domestic product, on average.
Climate change label leads to climate science acceptance
A new Cornell University study finds that labels matter when it comes to acceptance of climate science.
Was that climate change?
A new four-step 'framework' aims to test the contribution of climate change to record-setting extreme weather events.
It's more than just climate change
Accurately modeling climate change and interactive human factors -- including inequality, consumption, and population -- is essential for the effective science-based policies and measures needed to benefit and sustain current and future generations.
Climate change scientists should think more about sex
Climate change can have a different impact on male and female fish, shellfish and other marine animals, with widespread implications for the future of marine life and the production of seafood.
Climate change prompts Alaska fish to change breeding behavior
A new University of Washington study finds that one of Alaska's most abundant freshwater fish species is altering its breeding patterns in response to climate change, which could impact the ecology of northern lakes that already acutely feel the effects of a changing climate.
Uncertainties related to climate engineering limit its use in curbing climate change
Climate engineering refers to the systematic, large-scale modification of the environment using various climate intervention techniques.
Public holds polarized views about climate change and trust in climate scientists
There are gaping divisions in Americans' views across every dimension of the climate debate, including causes and cures for climate change and trust in climate scientists and their research, according to a new Pew Research Center survey.
The psychology behind climate change denial
In a new thesis in psychology, Kirsti Jylhä at Uppsala University has studied the psychology behind climate change denial.

Related Climate Change Reading:

The Politically Incorrect Guide to Climate Change (The Politically Incorrect Guides)
by Marc Morano (Author)

Less freedom. More regulation. Higher costs. Make no mistake: those are the surefire consequences of the modern global warming campaign waged by political and cultural elites, who have long ago abandoned fact-based science for dramatic fearmongering in order to push increased central planning. The Politically Incorrect Guide to Climate Change gives a voice -- backed by statistics, real-life stories, and incontrovertible evidence -- to the millions of "deplorable" Americans skeptical about the multibillion dollar "climate change" complex, whose claims have time and time again been... View Details

Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know®
by Joseph Romm (Author)

Climate change will have a bigger impact on humanity than the Internet has had. The last decade's spate of superstorms, wildfires, heat waves, and droughts has accelerated the public discourse on this topic and lent credence to climatologist Lonnie Thomson's 2010 statement that climate change "represents a clear and present danger to civilization." In June 2015, the Pope declared that action on climate change is a moral issue.

This book offers the most up-to-date examination of climate change's foundational science, its implications for our future, and the core clean energy solutions.... View Details

This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. The Climate
by Naomi Klein (Author)

The most important book yet from the author of the international bestseller The Shock Doctrine, a brilliant explanation of why the climate crisis challenges us to abandon the core “free market” ideology of our time, restructure the global economy, and remake our political systems.

In short, either we embrace radical change ourselves or radical changes will be visited upon our physical world. The status quo is no longer an option.

In This Changes Everything Naomi Klein argues that climate change isn’t just another issue to be neatly filed between taxes and... View Details

A Global Warming Primer: Answering Your Questions About The Science, The Consequences, and The Solutions
by Jeffrey Bennett (Author)

2017 NSTA, Outstanding Science Trade Books
2017 Children's Book Council, Best STEM Books
Nautilus Book Award, Silver, Ecology and Environment

Is human-induced global warming a real threat to our future? Most people will express an opinion on this question, but relatively few can back their opinions with solid evidence. Many times we’ve even heard pundits say “I am not a scientist” to avoid the issue altogether. But the truth is, the basic science is not that difficult. Using a question and answer format, this book will help readers achieve three major... View Details

The Thinking Person's Guide to Climate Change
by Robert Henson (Author)

Everybody can be a thinking person when it comes to climate change, and this book is a perfect roadmap.  Start a web search for “climate change” and the first three suggestions are “facts,” “news,” and “hoax.” The Thinking Person's Guide to Climate Change is rooted in the first, up to date on the second, and anything but the last. Produced by one of the most venerable atmospheric science organizations, it is a must-read for anyone looking for the full story on climate change.

Using global research and written with nonscientists in mind, the Guide... View Details

Dire Predictions, 2nd Edition: Understanding Climate Change
by Michael E. Mann (Author), Lee R. Kump (Author)

Explore global warming with graphics, illustrations, and charts that separate climate change fact from fiction, presenting the truth about global warming in a way that's both accurate and easy to understand. Respected climate scientists Michael E. Mann and Lee R. Kump address important questions about global warming and climate change, diving into the information documented by the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) and breaking it down into clear graphics that explain complex climate questions in simple illustrations that present the truth of the global warming problem clearly.... View Details

Climate Change: The Facts
by J.Abbot (Author), J.S. Armstrong (Author), A.Bolt (Author), R.Carter (Author), R.Darwall (Author), J.Delingpole (Author), C.Essex (Author), S.Franks (Author), K.Green (Author), D.Laframboise (Author), N.Lawson (Author), B.Lewin (Author), R.Lindzen (Author), J.Marohasy (Author), R.McKitrick (Author), P.Michaels (Author), A.Moran (Author), J.Nova (Author), G.Paltridge (Author), I.Plimer (Author), W.Soon (Author), M.Steyn (Author), A.Watts (Author), Alan Moran (Editor)

Tirelessly promoted by princes, presidents, actors and activists, "climate change" has become a dominant theme of global politics. But what's really going on as the "pause" in global warming prepares to enter its third decade? In this new anthology, leading scientists and commentators from the United States, the United Kingdom, Canada and Australia consider the climate from every angle - the science, the policy and the politics. View Details

Climate Change: What the Science Tells Us
by Charles Fletcher (Author)

Fletcher's 1st edition of "Climate Change: What the Science Tells Us" places strong emphasis on the peer-reviewed literature in reporting the impacts of climate change on the ocean, terrestrial ecosystems, the water cycle, human communities, dangerous weather patterns, and potential future Earth systems. The book offers detailed discussion of greenhouse gases, oceanic and atmospheric processes, Pleistocene and Holocene paleoclimate, the human fingerprints of climate change, modeling climate, sea level rise, climate impacts on economic sectors, and dangerous weather patterns associated... View Details

Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know®
by Joseph Romm (Author)

"This is, for my money, the best single-source primer on the state of climate change." - New York Magazine

"The right book at the right time: accessible, comprehensive, unflinching, humane." - The Daily Beast

"A must-read." - The Guardian

The essential primer on what will be the defining issue of our time, Climate Change: What Everyone Needs to Know® is a clear-eyed overview of the science, conflicts, and implications of our warming planet.

From Joseph Romm, Chief Science... View Details

Climate Change: The Facts 2017
by Jennifer Marohasy (Editor)

Climate Change: The Facts 2017 contains 22 essays by internationally-renowned experts and commentators, including Dr Bjorn Lomborg, Dr Matt Ridley, Professor Peter Ridd, Dr Willie Soon, Dr Ian Plimer, Dr Roy Spencer, and literary giant Clive James. The volume is edited by Dr Jennifer Marohasy, Senior Fellow at the Institute of Public Affairs. Fourteen of the contributors currently hold or have held positions at a university or a scientific research organisation.

Dr Jennifer Marohasy said, "Climate Change: The Facts 2017 presents the case for climate change policies... View Details

Best Science Podcasts 2018

We have hand picked the best science podcasts for 2018. Sit back and enjoy new science podcasts updated daily from your favorite science news services and scientists.
Now Playing: TED Radio Hour

The Consequences Of Racism
What does it mean to be judged before you walk through the door? What are the consequences? This week, TED speakers delve into the ways racism impacts our lives, from education, to health, to safety. Guests include poet and writer Clint Smith, writer and activist Miriam Zoila Pérez, educator Dena Simmons, and former prosecutor Adam Foss.
Now Playing: Science for the People

#465 How The Nose Knows
We've all got a nose but how does it work? Why do we like some smells and not others, and why can we all agree that some smells are good and some smells are bad, while others are dependant on personal or cultural preferences? We speak with Asifa Majid, Professor of Language, Communication and Cultural Cognition at Radboud University, about the intersection of culture, language, and smell. And we level up on our olfactory neuroscience with University of Pennsylvania Professor Jay Gottfried.