Climate change will impact on human health

Climate warming and changes in rainfall patterns may have significant and wide ranging impacts on health in Europe, say a team of researchers in this week's BMJ.

The team are part of the International Working Group on the early human health effects of climate change, convened by the Rome division of the World Health Organisation European Centre for Environment and Health. They say that societies will need to adapt to climate change to minimise any adverse effects on health and to this end surveillance of diseases sensitive to climate should be enhanced.

It has been estimated that average global temperature is likely to increase by one to 3.5 degrees centigrade by 2100, say the authors and they argue that this will affect human health hand-in-hand with other ecological and demographic changes.
Increases in average seasonal temperatures will entail an increase in the number of heatwaves and decrease the number of cold spells, predict the authors. Health professionals, they say, should be prepared to tackle increased mortality during heatwaves. However one benefit of climate change may be a reduction in excess winter mortality.

Kovats et al also report that an increased risk of river flooding in Europe is likely in the future. They say that flooding has long term effects on mental health; may disrupt water purification and sewage disposal systems; cause toxic waste sites to overflow and dislodge chemicals stored in the ground. There may also be an increased risk of communicable diseases after flooding, they warn. Malaria, visceral leishmaniasis, tick borne encephalitis and Lyme disease are all vector borne diseases that are likely to be affected by climate change and may find their way into new populations.

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