Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Can Climate Change Help Cholera and Malaria Spread?

 By Ryan Marx
In Africa in the Time of Cholera Myron Echenberg suggests that Cholera and other infectious diseases, have overestimated the capacities to master the natural world.  Some invoke climate change as one area where cholera and especially malaria may pose a greater threat in the future.  One radical pessimists James Lovelock, worries that low-lying coastal areas of Africa and other continents will be underwater in three decades. 

Without going too much in detail about these diseases, the fact that cholera is able to live outside the body and go dormant in colder environments causes concern for people not only living in third world countries, but also for the more industrialized countries. 

Echenberg goes on to state that the majority of scientific evidence points to serious disruptions to the earth's ecological, climatic, and other natural systems through a variety of changes such as the concentration of ozone levels in the stratosphere, the retreat of glaciers, and the depletion of freshwater supplies.  He lists some changes already taking place that include: 
  • spread of tick-borne encephalitis
  •  increased malaria at higher altitudes in Africa
  • rise in dengue fever in several parts of the world

One research study, using remote sensing, suggests that cholera is profiting from climate change.  Sea surface temperature shows an annual cycle similar to the cholera case data.  Also, sea surface height could indicate the incursion of plankton-laden water inland (in tidal rivers, for example) and correlates with cholera outbreaks (data gathered from B. Lobtitz "Climate and infectious disease: Remote sensing for detection of Vibrio cholerae by indirect measurement"). 

Though this information and these studies are speculative, the threats that cholera and malaria already pose on many parts of the world should cause further concern to the possibility of climate change worsening these conditions.

Myron Echenberg, Africa in the Time of Cholera: A History of Pandemics From 1817 to the Present (2011)

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