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climate change, warmer weather will likely be bad for people’s health – MetroWest Daily News

Dr. Jeff Hersh

Q:  Will the warmer weather from climate change at least be good for people’s health?

A:  Unfortunately, quite the opposite. Climate change has already caused, and will too soon have even more severe, negative impacts on people’s health in multiple ways.

An increase in heat related illnesses:

  • Rising temperatures are associated with a more than 50 percent increase in heat-related death among people over 65 years of age; for example from heat strokes, cardiovascular issues, and other causes. 
  • And we have all unfortunately read stories about kids left in hot cars with tragic consequences (an unattended child should NEVER be left in a car, even for a few minutes).
  • Spikes in our core body temperature can make our hearts work harder, for example by requiring increased heart output due to blood vessels dilating to try to help cool down our bodies, as well as affect our blood pressure and certain blood clotting pathways, increasing the risk of a heart attack. 
  • Body temperature spikes can also increase the work our lungs must do by increasing breathing rate respectively.
Dr. Jeff Hersh

An increase in non-infectious diseases:

  • For example increases in skin cancer may occur as a result of increased UV radiation.
  • Lung cancer due to air pollution (for example from increased wildfires) is also expected to increase.

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Problems caused by extreme weather events, e.g. floods, hurricanes, droughts, etc.:

  • This includes direct traumatic injuries from these weather events, as well as repercussions due to interruption of the delivery of certain necessities such as electricity, health care, shelter, etc.

An increase in respiratory illnesses:

  • This includes increases in asthma flare-ups, as well as increases in allergy symptoms and many other respiratory illnesses (for example from increases/changes in allergen exposure, compromise of air quality, etc.).

Limitations in our food supply (for example due to drought, floods, etc.):

  • This includes limitations in food availability, for example from droughts and/or excessive rain/floods.
  • It also includes an increase in food-borne illnesses such as cholera, cryptosporidiosis, many others.

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An increase in psychological issues in many people.

An increase in infectious diseases: this is an issue with the potential for an obvious and huge negative impact. For example, researchers looked through the medical literature and found that 218 out of 375 human infectious diseases they identified (58 percent) could be expected to be made worse by one of the types of extreme weather caused by climate change.

  • This includes an increase in diseases transmitted by insects, parasites, etc., such as malaria, hantavirus, cholera, anthrax, hantavirus, Lyme, West Nile, many others. 
  • It would also include diseases spread by animals whose habitat is compromised.
  • It also includes increases in many water-borne illnesses.

The bottom line: our health is linked to the environment we live in.  Things that affect our environment will, of course, have potential effects on our health, both directly and indirectly. 

Global warming is changing our environment; this is NOT an opinion but a fact. I do not know how to address the climate change deniers (watching the movie “Don’t Look Up” may give people a little bit of insight), and any discussion of that is beyond the scope of this column. Sure, we would expect the earth to adapt/recover from the man-made climate change now occurring, but it is expected that this would take hundreds of thousands or even millions of years. I don’t think relying on this is a realistic way to address the issue. 

Jeff Hersh, Ph.D., M.D., can be reached at DrHersh@juno.com.

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