Climate changes can contribute to infectious diseases

Climate changes can contribute to  infectious diseases

Anyone who knows a farmer in Ohio can tell you this summer has been a bad one when it comes to planting corn. We recently went to a family reunion in Nebraska and drove across Ohio, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana. We noticed many agricultural areas along our route were devoid of corn, and where corn was growing, it was sadly far behind the normal height for this time of year.

One of the effects of the climate crisis we are now facing is we are seeing changing rainfall patterns. Areas where rainfall was adequate are now experiencing droughts. But some states such as West Virginia and Ohio are seeing unprecedented rainfall.

Excessive rain events and droughts are causing farmers to experience some real economic pain, and in the end we will see higher prices for many food items this fall.

There is another area of our lives being impacted by rainfall patterns and record-high temperatures. That area is our health, especially health issues related to the spread and increase in infectious diseases.

Many diseases require a vector, which is an organism that transmits a disease or parasite from one animal or plant to another. Research shows insect vectors are more active at higher temperatures and in rainy weather. This is especially true in tropical regions. Since mosquitoes need water to lay their eggs in, epidemics of malaria are seen during rainy seasons. The Zika virus is another disease spread via the Aedes species of mosquito.

West Nile virus too is spread by the bite of a mosquito, but the insect gets the virus by contact with infected birds. The primary hosts of this disease (birds) come into closer proximity to the mosquitoes, which carry the disease during droughts. Both are in search of water and thus concentrate in areas where water might be found.

Ebola is a very rare disease found mainly in sub-Saharan Africa. It is deadly and resistant to any kind of disinfection. It is carried through contact with infected nonhuman primates and bats or a sick human. The disease is often referred to as hemorrhagic fever as the victim usually bleeds from every orifice of the body before the onset of death.

Climate change has affected the occurrence and intensity of Ebola outbreaks. There are several explanations for this. One is as habitat shrinks, many species are living in closer proximity to humans. Another factor is the trade of bushmeat. As the climate crisis makes it more difficult to grow food, locals turn to illegal bushmeat (primates and bats) as food sources.

Other human illnesses are exacerbated by climate change, especially during instances of widespread flooding. We have heard stories of this situation in our own country as flooding in the Midwest caused an enormous gush of sewage, chemicals and wastes to enter into the Mississippi River. This toxic brew eventually found its way into the Gulf of Mexico, where it created a dead zone.

The Washington Post reported in a June 10, 2019 article that “all that water falling on all that fertilizer enriched farmland results in nutrient excess and caused tiny algae to burst into bloom. Once these organisms die and decompose, they use up available oxygen, which in turn results in major fish kills.”

By July 9 those algae had forced the closure of more than 25 beaches along the Mississippi coastline. The toxic blue-green algae can cause rashes, stomach cramps, nausea, diarrhea and vomiting.

Ohio’s ecosystems differ greatly from those of the tropics and Africa, but that doesn’t mean we are immune to these illnesses exacerbated by climate change. Intense rain events lead to run-off and nonpoint pollution sources flowing into Lake Erie.

These nutrient-rich pollutants caused algal blooms that were so bad in 2014 that the city of Toledo shut down the public water supply for three days to avoid toxins produced from an algae bloom (cyanobacteria).

The bloom left 110 people sick and half a million without tap water. The main sources of pollutants were excess fertilizers from farming and urban storm water run-off.

Climate change has increased these blooms as blue-green algae prefer warmer waters. Additionally the EPA stated warmer water does not allow for significant mixing of the water, and this causes bigger and faster growing algal blooms. Unfortunately, as these blooms, which float on the surface, grow and spread, they absorb sunlight and promote even more blooms and warm the water as well.

Recently Toledo residents passed a “Lake Erie Bill of Rights” to protect the lake that is the drinking water source for more than 11 million people. With 61 percent voting yes on this ballot measure, it “could allow citizens to sue polluters on behalf of the lake.” This is the first time in the USA that an ecosystem has been given rights. Ecuador was the first country to recognize the rights of nature in its constitution.

Unfortunately Gov. DeWine has now blocked this ballot measure, using HC1929 Ecosystem Court Action Amendment in Ohio’s budget bill, which was signed by DeWine last week.

The amendment states, “Nature or any ecosystem does not have standing to participate in or bring an action in any court of common pleas” and “No person, on behalf of or representing nature or an ecosystem, shall bring an action in any court of common pleas.”

What makes this ironic is Citizens United gives corporations the same rights conferred to humans even though they are in no way a living entity. Lake Erie, however, is a living entity.

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