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Climate Change Makes Me Sick: Vector-Borne Disease
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Below, you will find detailed information, resources, and opportunities to take climate-protective action.
What's the relationship between climate change and vector-borne disease?
Several dangerous infectious diseases are spread by insects or other carriers (vectors).
Although the spread of these diseases cannot be directly correlated with climate change, there is a strong association between climate change’s impacts on weather and several key behaviors of disease-bearing vectors.
Disease-carriers like ticks, mosquitoes and fleas respond to higher temperatures and increased humidity. Studies show that these factors affect how fast and how broadly these carriers colonize new areas, how long their reproductive seasons last, and how often mosquitoes bite. This can result in more humans being exposed, and more cases of disease.
- Lyme disease is a bacterial disease carried by the black-legged tick. It is expanding into parts of North America where it was not previously seen.
- Humans bitten by the carrier tick usually suffer from fever, headache, fatigue, and a skin rash -- often the tell-tale "bulls-eye" rash shown above. If left untreated, this disease can affect the joints, the heart, and the nervous system.
- Although Lyme disease is limited to specific regions in the U.S. and risk of transmission is seasonal, higher temperatures associated with climate change result in earlier tick activity and an expansion in tick habitat range.
- Occupation, proximity to vector habitat, and exposure to thick vegetation are all factors that influence the spread of this disease. Outdoor workers in the northeastern U.S. are at a higher risk of contracting Lyme disease.
- In 2013, there were 36,307 reported cases of Lyme disease in the U.S.
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever (RMSF)
- RMSF is a tick-borne disease whose symptoms include fever, headache, abdominal pain, vomiting, and muscle pain. If left untreated, these health effects can develop into serious damage to the kidney. The disease is potentially fatal.
- Although the name evokes the Middle Ages, plague is endemic in several Southwestern and Western U.S. states.
- Plague is spread between rodents and fleas, which can then infect humans. Symptoms begin with swollen lymph glands, fever, headache, chills, and weakness.
- As the bacteria multiply, the disease can progress into pneumonic plague. Pneumonic plague is the most serious form of the disease and is the only form of plague that can be spread from person to person (by infectious droplets). It can cause death.
- Studies show that increases in springtime temperatures, by 1.8° F, could increase the number of rodents infected with the plague by 50%.
- Infectious pathogens carried by mosquitoes include the West Nile virus, Dengue fever, Zika virus, and malaria. Click here to learn more about mosquito-borne diseases.
- Increases in heat and humidity due to climate change can boost the mosquitoes' reproduction rate, make them bite more, and speed the development of the disease-causing agents they carry.
- Socioeconomic status plays a part in the contraction of these diseases. If an individual's home is not equipped with adequate protective barriers like screens on windows and doors, they face a higher risk of exposure to disease-carrying mosquitoes.
How can I help fight climate change?
Take a look at our previous postcards:
Page Updated August 26, 2016