More Research is Needed on How Climate Change Affects Infectious Diseases

Article from Environment International wins Elsevier’s Atlas Award

New York, NY, June 30, 2016

It is time we act proactively to minimize the effect of climate change on our health, say the researchers behind a new review published in Environment International. To do this, more cross-disciplinary collaboration is needed to predict how climate change will alter the outbreak and spread of infectious diseases.

The review, carried out by researchers from Texas State University, USA and Tsinghua University, China, won Elsevier’s Atlas Award for May 2016.

The researchers identified three main ways climate change can affect disease: by impacting the pathogen, vector or host, and the spread of the disease. For example, when a mosquito (the vector) feeds from a human (host) who is infected with the Zika virus (the pathogen), the mosquito becomes infected and can spread the virus to another human by subsequently feeding from them.

“We need to increase our understanding of the impact of climate change and extreme weather events on infectious diseases,” said one of the study’s corresponding authors Dr. Yongmei Lu, Professor of Geography at Texas State University, USA. “With our current knowledge, it is difficult to predict and prevent outbreaks.”

For the review, the team selected scientific literature using three sets of search terms: pathogen, host and transmission of infectious diseases; weather- and climate-related keywords; and certain disease names. They identified 131 peer-reviewed articles and government reports published between 1990 and 2015.

Figures from the European Environment Agency (EEA) show the global average temperature increased by 0.74˚C in the 20th century, and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has predicted a further increase of between 1.5˚C and 5.8˚C in the 21st century. Such significant changes in temperature and weather can cause heat waves, floods and droughts, as well as change the spread of diseases.

The researchers give three main recommendations for future research. First, we need to increase our understanding of the cause and effect climate change will have on infectious diseases by carrying out more scientific studies. Second, we need to better predict how climate change will change the spread of diseases across space and time. And third, we need to set up local warning systems for the health effects of climate change.

“Like resources, money, power and rights, climate change is distributed unevenly and unequally in this world – and so are its impacts. However, it goes beyond political boundaries, and beyond administrative boundaries. It calls for our collective efforts and collaborative wisdom beyond boundaries to reduce and proactively adapt to its impacts,” explained Dr. Bing Xu, Professor at Tsinghua University in China.

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Notes for editors
The article is "Impact of climate change on human infectious diseases: Empirical evidence and human adaptation," by Xiaoxu Wu, Yongmei Lu, Sen Zhou, Lifan Chen and Bing Xu (doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2015.09.007). It appears in Environment International, volume 86 (2016), published by Elsevier.

Copies of this paper are available to credentialed journalists upon request; please contact Elsevier's Newsroom at newsroom@elsevier.com or +31 20 485 2492.

About Environment International
Environment International publishes research that focuses on the impacts of human activities and the environment on human health. It provides academics, practitioners, regulators and policy makers a platform for sharing and discussing how human activities and the environment are shaping human health, and the impact they’ll have in the future. In this way, the journal helps create opportunities to minimize people’s health risk and maximize their resilience.

About Elsevier
Elsevier is a world-leading provider of information solutions that enhance the performance of science, health, and technology professionals, empowering them to make better decisions, deliver better care, and sometimes make groundbreaking discoveries that advance the boundaries of knowledge and human progress. Elsevier provides web-based, digital solutions — among them ScienceDirect, Scopus, Research Intelligence and ClinicalKey— and publishes over 2,500 journals, including The Lancet and Cell, and more than 35,000 book titles, including a number of iconic reference works. Elsevier is part of RELX Group, a world-leading provider of information and analytics for professional and business customers across industries. www.elsevier.com

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