Climate change is negatively affecting the health of Wisconsin residents The Badger Herald
From severe weather to warming oceans, most people are aware of the many adverse environmental effects of climate change. But alongside these concerns, climate change is impacting human health in multiple ways, said Nelson Institute professor Dr. Jonathon Patz.
Patz has studied climate change and its effects on human health for more than a quarter of a century. When Patz began working in the field of environmental epidemiology, the study of environmental determinants of health, he realized that climate change posed a unique challenge to human health.
“There are so many pathways through which climate change affects our health that I consider this the greatest environmental challenge of our time,” Patz said.
Patz and his colleagues at the University of Hawaii at Mānoa recently published a study in which they conducted a systematic review and found 70,000 scientific papers and 3,000 case examples of climate change affecting human health. These results indicate that 58% of human infectious diseases are aggravated by climate change and that there are 1,006 distinct pathways by which climate threats lead to pathogenic diseases.
According to another article published by Patz in 2001, waterborne diseases are strongly associated with heavy rainfall, which is becoming increasingly extreme due to climate change. In 1993, Milwaukee experienced the most precipitation month in 50 years. The largest outbreak of waterborne disease ever recorded in the United States followed these heavy rains. An outbreak of cryptosporidiosisa parasite that causes vomiting, diarrhea and fever, has infected more than 403,000 people and killed 54.
“The most important health prevention to do in this case is to go to the source and recognize that the energy policy, the transport policy and, fundamentally, the establishment of a low carbon economy is in made a central public health policy,” Patz said. occur at this level rather than on an individual disease basis. We need a multi-pronged approach to prevention.
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Extreme heat is one of the many ways climate change is affecting human health in Wisconsin and beyond. Maggie Thelen, climate and health program manager at the Wisconsin Department of Health, said Wisconsin is getting hotter and more humid. During heat waves, when the temperature doesn’t drop enough at night, people’s bodies don’t have enough time to cool down and they can’t regulate their body temperature, Thelen said.
In Wisconsin, extreme heat is killing more people than any other weather event combined, said UW Hospital ICU nurse Alex Dudek. Extreme heat often deteriorates air quality, which can lead to more hospitalizations for respiratory problems. Additionally, when combined with COVID-19 infection, air pollution can lead to more patient deaths, Dudek said.
Acting Director of the Department of Medical History and Bioethics, Richard Keller studies the social determinants of vulnerability during the 2003 heat wave that swept through Western Europe, focusing specifically on France. During the August 2003 heat wave, 15,000 people died of heat-related illnesses in two weeks, making the heat wave one of the most devastating weather disasters in modern French history, Keller said.
According to Keller, this heat wave was a real wake-up call for the scientific community and for society in general.
“It was a time when it came back to the northern hemisphere, and Europe in particular…that it’s real and it’s killing people,” Keller said.
In 2003, most deaths occurred in the elderly population, as aging reduces people’s ability to regulate body temperature. According to the American Journal of Physiology, older people are at greater risk of hypothermia – a dangerously low body temperature – and hyperthermia – a dangerously high body temperature.
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According to Patz, with higher temperatures and changes in rainfall, mosquitoes are becoming infected with the disease. Tiger mosquitoes carry the Zika virus and dengue fever fever, which is a leading cause of death in some Asian and Latin American countries.
Since 2004, tiger mosquitoes have lived in France, Keller said. In the summer of 2022, more than 40 people living in France contracted dengue fever. While people in places like the United States and France normally contract dengue while abroad in tropical areas, the French cases occurred in people who had no travel history, meaning that mosquitoes transmit dengue locally.
“[Tiger mosquitos’] the range is shifting further and further north each year in response to climate change,” Keller said. “So we will see this species of mosquito very soon in a state like Wisconsin.”
It was in 2011 that Jessica LeClair, a clinical nursing educator and doctoral student at the UW School of Nursing, first saw the effects of climate change in Madison communities, particularly across the effects of heavier rains and flooding. When she was working as a public health nurse in a North Madison neighborhood, a school principal told her that more and more children were coming to school with asthma and respiratory problems.
Upon further investigation, LeClair learned that the neighborhood had flooded in 2008. In 2011, homeowners barricaded basements of homes, causing toxic mold to grow and seep through vents. LeClair said the toxic mold then made the families very sick.
Between families fearing eviction, lack of funding and political issues, LeClair struggled to find a solution. This experience led LeClair to pursue a master’s degree in public health to better understand the links between climate, health and equity.
“I took this knowledge back to our local health department and tried to convince them that as a nurse, all public health nurses should be dealing with this,” LeClair said. “We are integrated into the communities. We are already tackling health inequities in communities. Climate change amplifies these health inequalities so much.
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Regarding those whose health will be most affected by climate change, LeClair said communities that live in poverty, experience systemic racism and experience other inequalities will also bear the brunt of the health effects caused by climate change. climate change.
So while the extreme heat affects all Wisconsin residents, it disproportionately impacts farmers, construction workers and others who work outdoors, Dudek said.
“The health disparities are pretty extreme, so that’s another one of my goals,” Dudek said. “Try to respond to health issues related to climate change in a way that is fair and prioritizes those most affected.”