Climate Change Growing Threat to Health

About half of the states are at risk of dengue fever outbreaks, the analysis of CDC and National Climatic Data Center data indicates.

A JAMA blog highlighted an analysis by the Natural Resources Defense Council showing that the United States faces increasing health threats from infectious disease, extreme weather, and air pollution due to climate change. The analysis, published online Aug. 3, said the effects will be felt most strongly in the Southeast.

The analysis used data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Climatic Data Center and concluded about half of the 50 states are at risk of dengue fever outbreaks. At least 28 states already have been colonized by mosquitoes that can transmit the virus, and an estimated 173.5 million individuals live in these areas, according to the blog entry. "Continued shifts in local climate and precipitation may increase the vulnerability of these areas to the spread of dengue, according to the analysis. But despite this growing concern, only 3 of the states at greatest risk -- Florida, Maryland, and Virginia -- have a plan in place for dealing with this potential health threat."

The analysis says other potential health risks related to climate change are heat-related, injuries caused by flooding, or worsened asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease caused by increased smog, Dr. Jeremy Hess, MD, MPH, assistant professor of emergency medicine in Emory University's schools of Medicine and Public Health in Atlanta, said during a press briefing. "Local communities need to be better prepared," said Kim Knowlton, Ph.D., a senior scientist at the NRDC and assistant clinical professor of environmental health at the Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University in New York. "There are steps that can be taken."

NRDC has posted maps online to help the public and health officials assess their local risks.

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