In a World With Climate Change, We Will See New Diseases in New Places

When people think of the effects of climate change, it is usually about how it affects our external world, causing storms, floods, heat, and rapidly changing and more severe climates. However, climate change doesn’t just plague our natural environment with ailments; it is also expected to cause various diseases and epidemics with humans. This is exemplified in the chronic kidney disease epidemic that already has spread across the world to tens of thousands of agricultural workers. In a story from EurekAlert!, Doctor Cecilia Sorensen of the Colorado School of Public Health and the University of Colorado School of Medicine warns this is just the start. Climate change induced epidemics will become increasingly normal as the environment shifts.

The Kidney Disease Epidemic

This epidemic’s disease is known as chronic kidney disease of unknown origins (CKDu) and affects agricultural workers working in hot climates. It currently has been seen in the United States in Florida, California, and even more severely in Central America. It is now the second most common cause of death in Nicaragua, and El Salvador.  It’s origins are unknown and it has different symptoms than typical kidney disease. According to the lead author of the relevant article, Dr. Sorensen, the only clues are that it is somehow related to constant heat exposure and dehydration, and perhaps additionally to exposure to pesticides, heavy metals, and poverty.This disease is striking poor agricultural workers in these countries that, despite the harsh conditions, work in 104 degree weather all day long, all season long. They expect that hotter weather will bring more of it.

Other Climate Change Related Health Effects

The heat waves caused by climate change will bring a wave of related health conditions, often related to the heart. Recent years have seen unprecedented heatwaves that sent thousands to the emergency room. Other common conditions caused by the hot weather are the result of mild winters that no longer trigger die offs of parasites and other infectious agents. Instead, tics are surviving winters and are spreading Lyme disease in regions that were once too cold. Mosquitoes are spreading viruses in countries not previously known to carry dangerous diseases such as Zika and dengue fever.
This is the point at which politics, environmental sciences, and health practices overlap. These environment related health risks often caused by pollution or toxins are much more likely to hit poorer areas where people often cannot afford to live anywhere else. They are also the people who often cannot afford medical treatment in the US. We must be ready to deal with these diseases as they emerge to treat the vulnerable populations. Scientists and doctors will also have to collaborate more and doctors must become more informed about climate related diseases and the changing vulnerabilities that will be affecting populations.

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