UCSF Sustainability Stories

Samantha Martin, October 2016

Climate Change and the Spread of New Diseases

Climate change is not only affecting the weather, but is changing global health. According to a recent article in Yale environment360, “…as temperatures rise, the transmission of disease from animals and insects to people is growing”.  Increasing temperatures associated with climate change is also causing an increase in pollen and air pollution, causing more cases of asthma and higher amounts of heart attacks and strokes. In addition, warmer and wetter weather and destruction of rainforests is creating new mosquito habitat, unleashing new cases of malaria, creating a longer season of malaria transmission and increasing the risk of infection from dengue fever.

Areas that had once never seen certain vector-borne diseases are now seeing multiple cases. Vector-borne diseases, or diseases carried by agents such as mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas, are concerning because many of them do not have effective vaccines nor effective treatments. These include diseases such as west nile, lyme, dengue fever, chikungunya, and now zika.  Many originated in foreign countries, but are now found in the United States.mosq

As reported in the Los Angeles Times, “There is no vaccine or treatment for chikungunya or dengue fever; Chikungunya, which causes fevers and severe joint pain, is typically seen only in Africa and Southeast Asia, though recently cases have been reported in Mexico, Latin America and Florida. Dengue fever, which causes severe headaches, fevers and pain, is usually found only in the Middle East, Southeast Asia and Central America. Both diseases can be fatal.

“If a mosquito bites someone with Zika, and then the mosquito bites you, you are at risk for contracting Zika as well. That’s the real risk. So people who think it’s too far for them to be concerned, they are mistaken,” stressed Gail Lee, UCSF Sustainability Director.

According to an article titled “How Forest Loss is Leading to a Rise in Human Disease”, “Mosquitoes are not the only carriers of pathogens from the wild to humans. Bats, primates, and even snails can carry disease, and transmission dynamics change for all of these species following forest clearing, often creating a much greater threat to people.

UCSF Making the Connection Between Climate and Health

UCSF’s Office of Sustainability is bringing awareness to these connections with their most recent campaign about how climate changes health.  Each poster highlights one way that climate changes health, as well as urges viewers to make easy changes to help reduce their impact on the climate such as take the stairs, turn off their computer monitors, and take alternate types of transportation. These are not the only ways you can make a difference, but they are a start. By reducing your impact on the climate, the climate will reduce its impact on us.

If you are a physician, check out a new report from UCSF’s Office of Sustainability intern Alanya den Boer. The report, Physicians’ Role in Addressing the Issue of Climate Change and Health during their Conversations with Patients, provides entry points for linking climate change and health during conversations with patients. Her suggestions include:

  • Adaptation related advice
  • Mitigation related advice
  • Tailored advice
  • General advice

In addition, Climate for Health’s new report Let’s Talk Climate provides tips on how to message climate change for health professionals.