Public Health & Climate Change

Public Health & Climate Change


By Anushka

Climate change has always governed public health. Be it prolonged droughts or bitterly cold winters, climate change affects human health in various ways. There is scientific proof that climate change is in place all around the globe, with melting snow and ice, rise in sea levels, and rising surface temperatures, these climate changes are expected to bring about considerable impacts on human health. 
  • The impacts of climate change on public health are expected to increase. Based on scientific data, certain impacts such as existing health problems may intensify or new health problems may surface, both of which will pose a grave danger or have a drastic impact on public health. 
  • Understanding how the climate is changing and the effect it is causing on human health can help us mitigate the damage from climate change. 
  • A public health approach to climate change is a must. There are effective responses for many of these impacts, but the chronology, complexity, and extent of climate change are never known beforehand.
The fact that the surface temperature of Earth has risen is true. Rising air and ocean temperatures, rising sea levels, and melting snow and ice have shown these changes are affecting human health and will continue to do so. It has been observed that it is the human influence that is the dominant cause of the rise in temperature of the Earth.
Identifying climate change requires deep observations, from decades to centuries or longer. Apart from changes in climate, it also includes a shift in precipitation as well as an alteration in severe weather events.
Blazing Summers
Excess of anything is bad for health. When summer temperatures go beyond the projected value, it causes severe effects on public health.
  • Warmer temperatures lead to hotter days and exposure to such extreme hot temperatures can lead to dehydration, heat stroke, respiratory disease, and heat stress that can cause cardiovascular and kidney problems.
  • Certain risk factors make certain types of populations more vulnerable to extreme heat. People living in northern latitudes are less prepared to cope with extreme temperatures. 
  • Children, older adults, and people with certain medical conditions are more at risk. 
Apart from this type of population, people spending time outdoors such as workers, students, athletes, and homeless people tend to be more exposed to extreme heat than others. 

Urban areas are typically warmer as compared to rural areas due to the urban heat island effect. Climate change increases the vulnerability of urban populations to heat-related health impacts in the future. 

Living in urban areas increases exposure to heat waves that are often seen accompanied by periods of stagnant air, which leads to increases in air pollution that directly affects human health.

However, adaptive approaches, such as wider use of air conditioning, are seen to reduce the effects caused by extreme heat. As global temperature rises, hot days are expected to become more common and severe.
Climate change also affects the air we breathe, both indoors as well as outdoors. A shift in climate patterns and warmer temperatures is seen to negatively impact the air quality that we intake. 
Apart from that, air pollution can also cause cardiovascular health problems as well as respiratory problems which in severe cases can lead to asthma attacks, one of the most common health effects of air pollution.
  • Wildfires, which are increasing year by year, produce smoke and other unhealthy air pollutants which cause grave human health problems. 
  • Rising levels of carbon dioxide and warmer temperatures are making allergy seasons more lengthy and intense. 
  • Air quality is set to deteriorate if there is no reduction in greenhouse gases and atmospheric concentrations.
Despite significant improvements in air quality, climate change is making it harder for states to cope up with the standards in the future, ultimately increasing the number of people being exposed to unhealthy air.
Around seven million deaths a year worldwide are caused by air pollution and the findings showed that by reducing the burning of fossil fuels, 2.5 million premature deaths each year could be avoided by 2050 as estimated by the World Health Organization.
Air Pollution & Its Impact On Ozone Layer
Climate change increases ground-level ozone, a harmful air pollutant, and the main ingredient in smog, that is responsible for many health problems, such as decreasing lung functionality, asthma attacks, and an increase in the number of premature deaths. Children, older adults, outdoor workers, and those with asthma and other specific lung diseases are especially at risk.

Elements affecting ozone layer formation include heat, concentrations of precursor chemicals, and emissions of methane.

Wildfire emissions and air stagnation lead to an increase in particulate matter concentrations. With the increase in such various factors, climate change is expected to increase concentrations of ozone and particulate matter in particular areas.

An increase in global temperature would worsen ozone and increase the concentration of particle pollution in the atmosphere which will directly increase the number of premature deaths.

Vector-borne diseases are diseases caused by parasites, viruses, and bacteria that are transmitted by vectors such as mosquitoes, fleas, and tics. Climate changes such as precipitation, frost-free seasons, and extreme climate events can drastically increase the range and activity of the disease-causing vectors thereby increasing the transmission of diseases.
According to WHO, vector-borne diseases cause more than 700,000 deaths annually.

Mosquitoes, being major vectors in the transmission of various diseases, thrive in warm temperatures and are considered to be major carriers of Zika and Dengue virus. One such case of huge mosquito activity was witnessed in the USA from 1999 to 2010 in which a certain type of virus called West Nile virus was transmitted by different types of mosquitoes which infected more than 3 million people across the nation.

Ticks, being other major vectors in the transmission of various diseases, thrive in warm temperatures as well as in warm winters and are the carriers for Lyme disease. Lyme disease is transmitted through the bite of black-legged ticks. Common symptoms include fatigue, fever, headache, and erythema migrans.

As per various reports, both mosquitoes and ticks need water for their survival. Mosquitoes require stagnant water for breeding whereas ticks require humid surroundings for rehydration so areas that are very hot and witness days of droughts are less likely to be affected by vector-borne diseases. 
Extreme events, such as cyclones, storms, extreme precipitation, and flooding pose a great threat to public health. 
  • The people that are at high risk include young children, older adults, people with disabilities or medical conditions, and the poor.
  • Such extreme events further reduce the availability of safe food and fresh drinking water increasing stomach and intestinal related illnesses.
Damaging infrastructure, roads, disruption of power supply and communication, and hindrance to the essential services such as access to hospitals, pharmacies, and other health care services aggravate mental health and in some cases lead to post-traumatic stress disorder and depression. 

The human body can survive without food but cannot survive without water and if the water that is consumed is contaminated, one can suffer from a grave stomach illness. A few examples of the illnesses are acute gastroenteritis, acute diarrhea, liver damage, kidney damage, and in extreme cases, permanent damage to respiratory and nervous systems.

Climate impacts such as floods contaminate water bodies that are used for leisure and other water bodies that are used for drinking water thus increase the exposure to waterborne pathogens and toxins released by harmful algae and posing a serious threat to everyone who comes in contact with it. 

Climate impacts such as cyclones greatly contaminate water by causing shifts in the temperature of the water. Due to this shift, a bacteria known as Vibrio will be present in the water giving rise to other harmful algae as a result of which, seafood that comes from such areas will be contaminated and the consumption of the same will lead to severe human health problems. Climate impacts such as storms can damage any water structure such as water treatment plants thereby greatly multiplying the risk of being exposed to contaminated water. Delaying of services due to storms can increase the exposure to fresh and safe drinking water.

According to scientists, an increase in the concentrations of carbon dioxide present in the atmosphere due to climate change has a direct effect on the quality of food as it can stall or disrupt food supply increasing exposure to poor food quality. 
  • When temperature increases beyond the norms, exposure to unhealthy food increases as well, leading to bacterial infections, food poisoning, Salmonella infection as extreme warm temperatures give rise to birthplace for bacteria. In some cases, consumption of unhealthy food can prove to be fatal.
  • An abnormal increase in the sea surface temperature leads to an increase in mercury concentration which, in turn, leads to seafood contamination.
  • Extreme climate events such as floods and droughts can disrupt the supply of fresh and quality food thereby increasing exposure to unsafe food.
Impact Of Climate Change On Mental Health
According to various researches, a change in the day-to-day surroundings or physical health can have a significant impact on mental health, and going through an extreme climate event can cause stress disorder, depression, and other mental health related problems.
  • Extreme climate changes for people with pre-existing mental illness can be fatal. Individuals taking medications to regulate their body temperature are at great risk of falling prey to such changes or events. 
  • Specific groups of people such as children, pregnant women, older adults, workers, and underprivileged people are immensely affected by climate change and are at a higher risk of going through severe mental health-related problems. 
Some adverse effects of climate change are clearly visible today. A certain group of people is more vulnerable to climate change than others. This vulnerability is due to factors such as sensitivity, exposure, and adaptability but by following every safety precaution, lives can be saved. Acting on climate change and its effect on human health is something that the public health department can focus on in order to make a huge positive impact.
Furthermore, effectively monitoring climate change and its impact on human health and using effective methods such as standardization, quality control and assessment on the data collected can result in information that is precise and more or less, accurate. But such effective monitoring can only take place if each nation works together through international collaboration otherwise this grave danger i.e., climate change will keep on adversely affecting people in ways that are unimaginable.       

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