The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS), an influential group of over 221,000 scientists, has reached 97 percent consensus that global warming exists and that it will affect us on many levels, including medically.
These scientists are predicting a wide array of medical impacts, from psychological to infectious disease to injuries due to weather-related disasters. Some examples include:
Heat waves: Scientists predict that summertime temperatures will intensify and last for longer periods leading to more heat-related illnesses and death. The elderly and weak will be the most susceptible.
Weather: Severe storms, droughts, and floods will create a negative impact on populations where they strike. Initially, injuries during one of these events will cause problems followed by hygiene issues, disease-spread, and further potential injuries after the storm. Mold growth from lingering floods could also become a problem.
Air pollutants: Climate change will see an increase in certain types of airborne pollutants. This will exacerbate symptoms for asthma patients and others with respiratory issues. Some allergens, such as ragweed, will thrive in warmer temperatures and worsen seasonal allergies for some.
In fact, one study estimates that global warming may double the pollen count by 2040.
Infectious disease: Climate change could affect the life cycle and distribution of disease-carrying “vectors” – mosquitos, ticks, and rodents – that will be able to move further north and survive for longer periods. Some diseases that could expand territories include West Nile virus, equine encephalitis, Lyme disease, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, dengue, and Hantavirus.
The AAAS is planning a lengthy campaign to educate the general public about the effects of climate change. As a physician, have you seen any changes in your patients that might be due to a warmer planet? Have allergies worsened in the last few years? Has your region been hit by a deadly storm such as Hurricane Sandy or the midwestern tornadoes last summer? Do you feel you understand the intersection between global warming and medicine?
We will be discussing this further inside Sermo. If you’re an M.D. or D.O., please join us.