Is Global Warming Leading to Rise in Infectious Diseases? If so, what can consumers do to protect themselves?
The question is whether or not available evidence shows Global warming leading to rise in infectious diseases, such as Vibrio, E. coli, Hepatitis A, or Cyclospora. The circumstantial evidence says yes, with warmer waters leading to a large increase in warm-water bacterial infections from Vibrio (often infecting clams, oysters, and other shell fish), and an array of flesh eating bacteria that rarely made headlines until the last couple of years. In addition, global warming is being blamed for extreme weather conditions, such as floods which (often as a result of run off) have led to bacterial flourishes – infections of swimming and drinking water sources with bacteria like E. coli near ares hit by flooding.
Global warming has also coincided with an increase in the number and severity of Cyclospora outbreaks, a parasite that is associated with tropical environs but which has sickened thousands in the U.S. every year for the last three years.
Elsewhere globally, in Africa, reports of new and ongoing Ebola outbreaks have hit several high-population centers in Southern and mid Africa. These outbreaks may be increasing in frequency due to climate changes, but also due to overcrowding and internal wars that have ravaged communities, health care facilities, and caused massive human flight that works to spread disease. Global warming is also working hand-in-hand with irresponsible development in Brazil at destroying the rain forests. Such drastic change in ecosystems often lead to new outbreaks of infection.
In addition to global warming, there are also signs that extensive antibiotic usage in both animals, especially cattle, pigs and chickens, and human treatment, has led to to another problem – antibiotic-resistant infections. A large number of recent salmonella outbreaks have resulted in culturing demonstrating the salmonella is resistance to one or more antibiotics. Victims of an outbreak of antibiotic resistant salmonella, E. coli, Listeria, or Campylobacter can be life threatening.
While pubic health agencies and medical professionals are working hard to keep up with the new onslaught of infectious diseases, they are ill equipped and outpaced by the rate of increase. With so many “high priority” challenges globally, focusing on the impact of climate change on infectious disease is understandable.
What can individuals do if we concede that evidence suggests Global warming leading to rise in infectious diseases? The only real solution would be to reverse global warming but that is beyond the sphere of influence of any single consumer. But that does not mean that consumers are left helpless. First off, consumers need to understand modes of transmission, such a pathogen contact and hand-to-mouth habits that often introduce a dangerous pathogen as part of the oral-fecal route in which victims consume (ingest) fecal matter contaminated with a pathogen. This awareness requires (1) careful dedication to appropriate personal hygiene that includes hand washing and, in specific instances, wearing protective gloves or clothing; (2) use of common sense in avoiding some common sources of contamination, such as zoonotic infection due to contact with animals like back yard chickens, turtles, or petting zoos; (3) restricting certain activities that were considered safe only a few years ago, such as swimming in coastal warm waters, eating raw oysters, or walking barefoot on the beach; or (4) careful food preparation that includes washing vegetables and fruits and avoiding those that are near impossible to clean, such a bean sprouts.
In addition, when gastrointestinal illness presents, victims should always seek a GI Panel, or at a minimum a stool culture, and report illnesses to local health agencies for tracking purposes. The impact of doing so will marshal current reportable disease laws enable health agencies and epidemiologists to identify outbreaks more quickly. By identifying the source of your own illness, you can more rapidly seek treatment, and identifying an outbreak allows health agencies to prevent the further spread of the disease by identifying the public source.