The rate of global warming has accelerated over the past 50 years. Increasing surface temperature is melting glaciers and raising the sea level. More flooding, droughts, hurricanes, and heat waves are being reported. Accelerated changes in climate are already affecting human health, in part by altering the epidemiology of climate-sensitive pathogens. In particular, climate change may alter the incidence and severity of respiratory infections by affecting vectors and host immune responses. Certain respiratory infections, such as avian influenza and coccidioidomycosis, are occurring in locations previously unaffected, apparently because of global warming. Young children and older adults appear to be particularly vulnerable to rapid fluctuations in ambient temperature. For example, an increase in the incidence in childhood pneumonia in Australia has been associated with sharp temperature drops from one day to the next. Extreme weather events, such as heat waves, floods, major storms, drought, and wildfires, are also believed to change the incidence of respiratory infections. An outbreak of aspergillosis among Japanese survivors of the 2011 tsunami is one such well-documented example. Changes in temperature, precipitation, relative humidity, and air pollution influence viral activity and transmission. For example, in early 2000, an outbreak of Hantavirus respiratory disease was linked to a local increase in the rodent population, which in turn was attributed to a two-to threefold increase in rainfall before the outbreak. Climate-sensitive respiratory pathogens present challenges to respiratory health that may be far greater in the foreseeable future.
- Climate change
- Lung disease
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Pulmonary and Respiratory Medicine