Thursday, August 2, 2007

Climate Change Could Cause Epidemics

According to an article in the (Canadian) Osprey Media, climate change could bring an increase in insect-bourne illnesses such as the mosquito-carried West Nile Virus.

Dr. Brian Hickey, a research scientist with the river institute, says as winter temperatures rise, insects will likely migrate to the area and may carry diseases researchers haven't yet discovered. "New diseases, new strains of diseases are cropping up," he says.
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"Even tropical diseases like malaria, we're not that far in terms of climate (from reaching temperatures disease-causing bacteria need to survive)." While Hickey points to climate change as a possible factor for a host of other developing diseases that are affecting fish in the area, he says it's impossible for biologists to predict the impact temperature changes will have on local ecosystems. But he says local outbreaks of West Nile virus, which is transmitted through infected mosquitoes and first appeared in the province six years ago, proves that once a new disease breaks out in a specific area, the risk of infection is usually permanent. "When a new disease like that arises, no one really knows how much is due to climate and how much is due to circumstances," he says. Dr. Paul Roumeliotis, a medical officer with the Eastern Ontario Health Unit, says local health officials have been concerned about West Nile following two local cases last summer. Other insect-borne illnesses, such as Lyme disease, are "very rare" in the area, he says. There was one case of tick-spread Lyme disease reported last year and as a result the health unit is carefully collecting ticks found in Cornwall and surrounding area to test them for disease. Roumeliotis says he can't confirm those cases were caused by global warming. "Some experts think diseases that we're not used to will habitat here," he says. "Is it because of the rising temperature? I'm not sure. Nobody really knows." "I don't think that anybody will say it's because of global warming, but as public health officials, we're always looking for trends." People should protect themselves against infectious bites by using insect repellent and wearing long-sleeved, light-coloured clothing, warns a doctor from the Public Health Agency of Canada. Dr. Peter Buck, who specializes in animal diseases that can be transmitted to humans, says the threat of new viruses is real, but Canadians shouldn't panic. "Climate change could just be one of many factors," Buck says. "It's something that scientists have been studying for years."
Interfaith Power and Light is a religious response to global warming with chapters in 22 states and Greater Washington, D.C. Find a link to your local chapter at

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