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Daily News Archive

From November 15, 2001

Infectious Diseases Linked to Global Warming

Today, experts will discuss the connections between global warming and infectious diseases. U.S. levels of West Nile virus, hantavirus, and Lyme disease have dramatically increased over the past five years.

Scientific studies show that increases in rainfall and extreme drought may be partially blamed for the increase in these diseases. Human-caused global warming is predicted to cause a three-degree rise in temperature and a half-meter rise in sea level by the end of the century, according to the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

The transmission of these diseases is affected by even small changes in temperature and rainfall. Insect-borne diseases such as West Nile, encephalitis, dengue and malaria, and rodent-borne diseases such as hantavirus are sensitive to weather changes. Experts predict climate change will also bring new "surprise diseases."

The U.S. continues to sit on the sidelines after last week's international treaty meeting on climate control held in Morocco. Negotiators for over 160 countries, including Great Britain, Japan and Russia, reached an agreement to set mandatory targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions. The U.S., which emits most of the world's greenhouse gases, would be exempt from the treaty.

At noon today, a panel of medical experts will explain the links between climate change, new disease outbreaks, and our public health system's ability to handle them. Experts include Paul Epstein, MD, MPH, Harvard medical School, Center for Health and the Global Environment; Bob Musil, MD, Executive Director, Physicians for Social Responsibility; and Jonathan Patz, MD, MPH, Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.