A woman walks past a map showing the elevation of the sea in the last 22 years during the World Climate Change Conference 2015 (COP21) at Le Bourget, near Paris, France, December 11, 2015. REUTERS/Stephane Mahe/Files
New Delhi, October 13 (IANS) Aside from inflicting devastating natural disasters, climate change can also spur outbreaks of infectious diseases like zika, malaria and dengue fever, says a new study.
“Climate change presents complex and wide-reaching threats to human health,” said lead author of the study Cecilia Sorensen from the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus in the US.
“It can amplify and unmask ecological and socio-political weaknesses and increase the risk of adverse health outcomes in socially vulnerable regions,” Sorensen said.
When natural disasters strike such places, the climatic conditions may make the public health crisis significantly worse, according to the study published in the journal GeoHealth.
The researchers said these vulnerabilities can happen anywhere. After Hurricane Katrina hit New Orleans in the US, cases of West Nile disease doubled the next year.
Climate change in Africa appears to be increasing cases of malaria. And the recent destruction in Houston, Florida and Puerto Rico due to hurricanes may usher in more infectious diseases in the years ahead.
The study focused specifically on a magnitude 7.7 earthquake that struck coastal Ecuador in April 2016, coinciding with an exceptionally strong El Nino event.
El Ninos are associated with heavy rainfall and warmer air temperatures. They are also linked to outbreaks of dengue fever.
“We were seeing all of these viral symptoms in the wake of the quake,” she said. “We noticed a huge spike in zika cases where the earthquake occurred. Prior to this, there were only a handful of zika cases in the whole country,” Sorensen said.
In fact, the researchers found the number of zika cases had increased 12-fold in the quake zone.
The zika virus is transmitted by mosquitoes. The symptoms are usually mild but the infection can cause major abnormalities and even death in a developing foetus.
El Nino created ideal conditions for zika-carrying mosquitoes to breed and make more copies of the zika virus, the study said.