The word climate change is often associated with warmer temperatures, intense weather events, and melting glaciers but did you know that it may also affect your health and well-being? Health care professionals warn that warmer temps have dangerous implications for the elderly and those already sick, but may also increase seasonal allergies and asthma risks and could even cause outbreaks of infectious diseases like smallpox!
This August marked 16 straight months that broke global average temperature records but some parts of the world felt this hot streak more than others. Temperatures in middle eastern countries like Kuwait and Iraq soared to 54ºC (129ºF) the week of July 22nd the government was forced to order a 4-day holiday. Heat waves such as this one put elderly residents at severe risk for heat exhaustion and heat stroke and is especially dangerous for those without access to air conditioning. Research indicates that, if this trend continues, by the year 2100 some cities may even surpass a level where humans can survive outside!
In addition to our body’s ability to cope with excessive heat, there are more pollutants and allergens in the air because of climate change. Particulate matter (e.g. dust, pollen, soot, smoke, etc) and ozone can be toxic to the body and cause lung irritations and cardiovascular problems. Warmer temps also mean longer and hotter growing seasons so top allergens like pollen may be in the air for longer each year and may be more intense in amount.
Scary Statistic: Current research estimates that 5.5 million people die prematurely each year due to air pollution and it’s effects on our health.
Perhaps most frightening of all though, is the risk for the resurgence of some infectious illnesses! As temperatures rise, areas of permafrost (soil that remains frozen year-round) are melting and releasing what’s buried underneath. Highly contagious illnesses from the early 20th century can be found on human and animal remains that are buried under this permafrost. As the soil thaws, these viruses and bacteria can become mobile again or release spores and expose above ground life to this threat.
Just this year, a remote area of Siberia saw an outbreak of anthrax after 2,000 reindeer were exposed to the bacteria in the soil. Officials worry that melting permafrost may soon reach a number of smallpox ridden human grave sites and release the deadly virus once again. [Smallpox was entirely eradicated in the 1970’s after a global vaccination effort. Anyone born after this time has not received the vaccine and would not be protected from an outbreak.]