“Vital New Roadmap” Underscores Need to Study Climate Change, Human Health Links

Asthma, Cancer, Weather Disaster-Related Illnesses Cited Among Concerns

April 22, 2010

The vulnerability of people to the health effects of climate change is the focus of a report released today by an NIH-led federal interagency group that includes NOAA. The report, “A Human Health Perspective on Climate Change,” calls for coordinating federal research to better understand climate’s impact on human health and identifying how these impacts can be most effectively addressed. The report was published by Environmental Health Perspectives and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. 

The report indicates what is known and the significant knowledge gaps in our understanding of the consequences of climate change on 11 major illness categories, including cancer, cardiovascular disease and stroke, asthma and other respiratory disorders, food-borne diseases and nutrition, weather and heat-related fatalities, and water and vector-borne infectious diseases.  

 “To mitigate and adapt to the health effects of climate change, we must first understand them. This report is a vital new roadmap for doing that,” said Jane Lubchenco, Ph.D., under secretary of commerce for oceans and atmosphere and NOAA administrator. “There is an urgent need to get started, and I am pleased that we can bring NOAA climate science and NOAA capabilities in linking ocean and human health and a range of other monitoring and prediction tools to the table.”    

Coral reef.

High resolution (Credit: NOAA)

Health experts from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and NIH Fogarty International Center, NOAA, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, U.S. Department of Agriculture, U.S. Department of State, U.S. Global Change Research Program, and the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy contributed to the report.

Research recommendations include examining how diseases in marine mammals might be linked to human health; investigating how climate change might contaminate seafood, beaches and drinking water; and understanding the impact of atmospheric changes on heat waves and air-borne diseases. There are questions about the effects of increased rainfall and extreme weather events on sewage discharges and run-off and what this will mean to human health. Integrating human, terrestrial and aquatic animal health surveillance with environmental monitoring is recommended to better understand emerging health risks like Lyme disease, West Nile virus, malaria, and toxins from marine algae.  

To address disaster planning and management, the report encourages research aimed at strengthening healthcare and emergency services, especially when events such as floods, drought and wildfires can affect human health both during and after an event. The report also identifies the need for more effective early warning systems providing, for example, an alert to those with cardiovascular disease on extreme heat days or when air pollution is high. Other issues include susceptible and displaced populations; public health and health care infrastructure; essential capacities and skills, particularly for modeling and prediction; the integration of climate observation networks with health impact and surveillance tools, and communication and education.

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