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Climate Change & Infectious Disease

May 8, 2022
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WRITTEN BY Dr. Prema Arasu

Climate change is impacting many aspects of our lives, including an increase in the prevalence and diversity of infectious diseases. Environmental conditions in Missouri will increasingly favor the migration and survival of different organisms, including disease-causing agents and species not native to the region. Eating a healthy diet to boost immune systems, maintaining habits that enhance physical and mental wellbeing, and being informed about best practices could be beneficial at the individual level. Educational programs for the general public as well as improvements in public health services and community medicine may also be important to prepare society for climate-associated changes in the near future.

Science Highlights

  • Infectious diseases are caused by agents such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, or parasites that live in or on our bodies. Some of these agents are harmless and some are beneficial, while some cause disease.
  • With climate change, the geographical ranges of various organisms (including insects, birds, animals, humans, and plants) will shift to environments suitable for their survival.
  • Agents that can cause infectious diseases are likely to be transported with these hosts, increasing the number of diseases typically seen in Missouri.
  • Missouri’s Office of Administration estimates that people over age 65 will increase to about one-fifth of the state’s population by 2030. This age sector is more vulnerable to infectious diseases along with those who are very young, immunocompromised, or live in polluted, unhealthy environments.

Limitations

  • While scientists in many disciplines are studying different scenarios to predict potential problems and solutions, there is concern that current practices will not change in time to reverse the effects of climate change. 
  • The multitude and complexity of factors that influence the agents and disease transmission patterns may limit accurate predictions of the ultimate effects of climate change on infectious diseases.
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