A comprehensive assessment of scientific literature has uncovered empirical evidence that more than 58% of human diseases caused by pathogens, such as dengue, hepatitis, pneumonia, malaria, Zika and more, have been — at some point — aggravated by climatic hazards. That eye-opening and startling finding is the topic of a research paper published on August 8 in Nature Climate Change by a team of researchers from the University of Hawaii at Manoa.
The researchers carried out a systemic search for empirical examples about the impacts of 10 climatic hazards sensitive to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions on each known human pathogenic disease. These hazards included warming, drought, heatwaves, wildfires, extreme precipitation, floods, storms, sea level rise, ocean biogeochemical change, and land cover change.
Combining two authoritative lists of all known infections and pathogenic diseases that have affected humanity in recorded history, researchers then reviewed more than 70,000 scientific papers for empirical examples about each possible combination of a climatic hazard impacting each of the known diseases.
The research revealed that warming, precipitation, floods, drought, storm, land cover change, ocean climate change, fires, heatwaves and sea level changes were all found to influence diseases triggered by viruses, bacteria, animals, fungi, protozoans, plants and chromists. Pathogenic diseases were primarily transmitted by vectors, although case examples were also found for waterborne, airborne, direct contact and foodborne transmission pathways. Ultimately, the research found that more than 58%, or 218 out of 375, of known human pathogenic diseases had been affected at some point, by at least one climatic hazard, via 1,006 unique pathways.
“Given the extensive and pervasive consequences of the COVID 19 pandemic, it was truly scary to discover the massive health vulnerability resulting as a consequence of greenhouse gas emissions,” said Camilo Mora, geography professor in the College of Social Sciences (CSS) and lead author of the study. “There are just too many diseases, and pathways of transmission, for us to think that we can truly adapt to climate change. It highlights the urgent need to reduce greenhouse gas emissions globally.”
An interactive web-page showing each connection between a climatic hazard and a disease case was developed by the research team. The tool allows users to query specific hazards, pathways and disease groups, and see the available evidence.
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