Milken Institute School of Public Health
Gillings School of Global Public Health
One of the biggest threats to public safety in recent times may not be what you think. While many are dying every day from serious attacks on their health from cancer, heart disease, and even AIDS, these diseases do not come close to the real threat to public health and safety. Even though these threats are very real and equally as prevalent in our society to grasp, the real threat we are all exposed to is not so readily evident. We need to readjust the way we think about health entirely in order to see it. According to Paul Epstein of the Huffington Post,
“To get your head around the biggest health threat of all, you might have to change how you think about health entirely. That’s because the biggest threat of all, in the view of this blue-ribbon panel, was climate change.”
For the person who doesn’t really keep abreast of the scientific impacts of climate change on our health this information may come as a major blow to his concept of health. Still, the affects of global climate change has on the human physical condition cannot be ignored.
The Effects of Warming Temperatures
As the temperature begins to climb we see more disease-carrying mosquitos reaching regions that were previously too cold for them to thrive. They are now moving out of the tropics and are finding new homes in higher regions where they could not survive before. As they relocate to these other areas they are bringing along with them fearful diseases like malaria, dengue fever, and others that were previously limited to tropical regions before. Reports show that Dengue fever has now been found to be thriving in Northern Mexico where it was never seen before and Lyme disease is spreading across North America.
Something that was probably unknown to the majority of the world’s population until recent years are the red tides that are occurring in the warming coastal oceans. These have been known to cause severe nausea, vomiting, paralysis, and even brain damage to swimmers, surfers, and those who eat contaminated shellfish. One case in point was an episode that occurred on Prince Edward Island that left 150 people poisoned by domoic acid from eating contaminated shellfish. Of those 150, four people died while the others suffered from severe vomiting, cramps, and diarrhea. Some even suffered from loss of memory and seizures, causing 19 people to be hospitalized.
Early Melting of the Snowpack
Because of the snowpack melting early, forests are turning into tinder, making them vulnerable to forest fires that have taken the lives of many. The smoke from these fires has brought on severe health issues like respiratory problems and heart conditions.
On the other side, heavy rains have caused the mountain sides to become bogged down with excess water leading to devastating mudslides similar to what was recently seen with the Washington mudslide, which has left possibly as many as 100 people dead. As pointed out at Think Progress,
“The landslide was caused by extremely heavy rains following an unusually dry period. Logging of the hillside for many decades and a nearby river whose banks cut up against the vulnerable area and eroded the hill also added to the risk.”
While mudslides are common in Washington State, the Pacific Northwest is predicted to continue to see climbing temperatures and wetter seasons because of climate change. It is realistic to see that more disasters such as the Washington Mudslide will be in the future.
While many people are directing their attention to the impact on their health from unknown diseases it appears that the health of the human race is being attacked from all sides without letup. In order to prepare for a healthier nation in the future it is important that our concept of human health be given a much wider scope to encompass many other types of assaults so that we can become much better in dealing with them.