UK weather: Climate change warning issued by expert
Climate change will make disease worse, and could well bring new viruses to the UK, experts have warned. This comes as the World Health Organization (WHO) is calling for health impacts of climate change to be “front and centre” during the ongoing negotiations at the COP27 summit in Egypt this fortnight. In fact, the UN health agency, which previously has dubbed climate change “the single biggest health threat facing humanity”, predicts the phenomena will lead, at a conservative estimate, to a horrific 250,000 extra deaths each year from 2030–2050.
Climate change, Global Climate and Health Alliance policy lead Jess Beagley told the AFP, “is a threat multiplier. As climate change worsens, we’re going to see the biggest threats to human health increase.”
According to the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, nearly 70 percent of all deaths worldwide at present are caused by diseases that global warming will only make worse.
Research from the University of Hawaii, meanwhile, has found that climate change is already making 58 percent of all infectious diseases worse.
WHO disease expert Dr Sylvie Briand told BBC News: “Climate change has provided more opportunities for emerging diseases, new infections.
“Urbanisation and human mobility are two factors increasing the risk for the future. If you add on top of that climate change, you have the perfect recipe for having a major threat to global health security.”
Climate change may bring mosquito-borne horrors like Zika and Dengue Fever to the UK
The range of the virus-carrying mosquito A aegypti in 2080 under a worst-case emissions scenario
There are various ways in which climate change can enable disease — the most obvious of which is perhaps in how warming temperatures provide a more suitable environment for many bacterial diseases.
Dr Briand added: “For example, cholera is a very dangerous disease and this bacteria is found in algae in the water.
“When the water becomes warmer, they can multiply, then the bacteria multiplies as well.”
Alongside encouraging bacteria, warming climates also enable the spread of disease-bearing insects like mosquitoes.
Infectious diseases expert Dr Felipe Colón-González of the Wellcome Trust told BBC News: “We are seeing an invasion of malaria and dengue in the highlands of Africa, Asia and Latin America, where they have been previously absent.
“We see now local transmission of dengue in Europe — something that would have been unthinkable 20 years ago.”
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West Nile virus could settle in the UK as the climate warms
Symptoms of West Nile virus include fever, headache, body ache, vomiting, diarrhea and rashes
In fact, some experts fear that climate change could bring Dengue and other insect-borne viruses to the UK — with some even having already arrived.
Sustainability and public health expert Dr Laurence Wainwright of the University of Oxford told Express.co.uk: “Perhaps the most significant disease risks for the UK posed by climate change stem from those illnesses which are spread by a host — mainly mosquitoes and ticks.
“These bloodsuckers — which are prolific carriers of diseases — tend to do better in warmer, more humid climates.
“As the UK warms, it is very possible we will see the emergence and spread of viruses which have previously not been seen in the country before.
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Dengue has been seen in Europe — something Dr Colón-González said was once unthinkable
Dr Wainwright continued: “We could for instance see West Nile Virus turning up. This nasty disease, which has in recent years popped up in Italy and a few other European countries recently due to unusually warm springs, causes a range of problems — including paralysis in rare cases. We currently have no vaccine against it — and few treatments.”
As climate change leads to rising temperatures, more extreme weather patterns and more frequent flooring, Dr Wainwright added, we may also see other mosquito-borne illnesses such as Zika Virus and Dengue Fever show up and settle in the UK.
In terms of ticks, he added, “there is a growing body of evidence that climate change has aided, and will continue to aid, the success of these parasites.
“Ticks can carry and spread a variety of diseases, ranging from Lyme disease to Tick-borne Encephalitis — the latter of which we’ve already seen a few cases in the UK in recent years.”
Another way that climate change may increase humanity’s disease burden lies in how it shifts the habitats of wild animals — bringing them, and the pathogens they carry, into closer contact with us.
Dr Briand explained: “It provides opportunities for those viruses that otherwise would have stayed in their animal reservoir to spill over to the human population — and then amplify into large epidemics or even pandemics.”
She added: “This is what we have seen, for instance, with Covid.”
It is important, Dr Briand concluded, that humanity “get ready” for the diseases that climate change will bring and exacerbate.
She said: “[We need] better vaccines, we need better antibiotics, we need a toolbox to fight diseases of this kind.
“[And] we need to ensure equal access to those tools around the world.”