By: Pete Levine
From The Genesee County Medical Society Climate Change And County Health
Cities and nations worldwide are setting temperature records almost daily with extreme heat events. This underscores the change this planet’s climate is taking.
Genesee County is geographically situated at 43 degrees latitude, relatively high within the northern hemisphere, and would seem to be protected from experiencing many of the effects of Earth’s warming. The truth of the matter is, it is not excluded. Even the two coldest places on earth, the Arctic and Antarctic, find themselves in the same unfortunate predicament – with melting ice, exposed land, and populations of people and animals forced to endure harsh change. Outside of having to experience rising coastal waters and melting icecaps, most everything else the rest of the world experiences, potentially will affect Genesee County as well.
Extreme heat can impact one’s health in multiple ways. As the temperatures warm each year, there will be more infections reported. Gastrointestinal and respiratory diseases, especially, will stand out in Genesee County, secondary to human, animal, and vector-borne dissemination. Coliforms and parasites in the food and water and Legionella in the water supply are more commonly found in the warmer months. Excrement in water from animals or humans is enough to create serious illness in the lakes or food chain. Warming temperatures with disruptions in water distribution, coupled with inadequate levels of antiseptic such as chlorine to thwart diseases such as those caused by parasites and Legionella, can lead to serious illness. Bacteria such as Lyme disease, according to the Centers of Disease Control (CDC), now are believed to be at least 10 times more common than previously reported, possibly due to increases in the insect populations. Other examples include Bartonella, Babesia, and Ehrlichia which are relatively common co-infections spread by vectors that thrive in warmer temperatures.
The CDC also states that harmful air pollutants increase with higher atmospheric temperatures and contribute to widespread respiratory and cardiovascular illness. It has been well established that chronic respiratory disease sufferers, such as asthmatics and those with COPD, incur more illness because of air pollution. Now it is widely accepted within the scientific community and espoused by the American Heart Association that air pollution with small particulates create significant inflammation leading to heart disease and strokes.
Due to the increased severity of storms predicted in global warming, there could be significant flooding and wind damage, lending itself to mold overgrowth concerns. Mold can directly impact the occupants of buildings, creating sick buildings, leading to increased allergic manifestations and/or myotoxicity affecting many organ systems. Mold already is a common cause of chronic illness and is being set up by meteorological upheaval (such as that which was seen by last year’s storms and hurricanes) to be even a larger player in the cause of disease.
It must be noted that those who are environmentally or socially disadvantaged are at greater risk. Extreme heat like what has been recorded in the mid-Michigan area recently, contributes widely to heat exhaustion and heat stroke, which increase death rates of those who are disabled by chronic disease especially, including small children and the elderly.
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. As carbon dioxide continues to build in the atmosphere of this planet, and the climate continues to warm, diseases related to it will continue to unfold. Wisdom dictates that health care providers who are knowledgeable and prepared will have a decided advantage as they care for those most affected. Ultimately, this can result in the reduction of illness created and perpetuated by a world in climactic flux.
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As the temperatures warm each year, there will be more infections reported.
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