Changes in greenhouse gases in the atmosphere may result in warmer air and ocean temperatures. If these changes occur, they could have significant effects on death rates from increases in heat-related deaths and an increased incidence of infectious diseases. Global warming may have grave consequences for the future control of disease. In the coming decades, and in combination with other environmental and social pressures, the current world-wide warming trend is likely to increase the exposure of millions of people to new diseases and health risks. All the indications are that this disturbing change has already begun.
Infectious diseases are currently emerging, resurging and undergoing redistribution on a global scale. In fact, according to a 1996 World Health Organization (WHO) report, at least 30 new infectious diseases have emerged in the past 20 years. (1) The three diseases that I will be focusing on are malaria, yellow fever, and dengue fever.
Malaria, yellow fever, and dengue fever are just a few of the health conditions that may become more frequent in the coming century. For several years, scientists have warned that the higher temperatures and extreme weather events associated with global warming are likely to mean bad news for the environment. What many people don't realize is that climate change may also have a major impact on the health of Americans.
One might think that warmer temperatures would result in fewer deaths simply because more deaths occur in the winter than the summer months (10-25 percent more in temperate regions). (6) This is not true. Though heat can kill directly, global warming is expected to claim even more of its victims through an indirect influence on disease, particularly on vector borne microbes. Warmer weather, combined with increases in precipitation, can be a mean of transportation for spreading various "vectors," such as...