Dengue Fever Hits Spain Malaria Stalks Greece Welcome to a Warmer World

B. McPherson
Increased risk of disease in animals as well as people is expected in a warmer world.

Dengue fever has hit Spain with a whallop. Nearly a thousand people have contracted the mosquito borne disease. Dengue is also known as breakbone fever because of the pain it causes and can develop into a hemorrhagic fever as well. Currently the Portuguese island archipelago of Madiera is reporting more than a thousand cases.

Malaria is an old scourge that is making a comeback in many countries and new inroads in others. In the US, Texas, Florida and Hawaii have all reported cases, some from returned travellers to tropical countries, but not all. The SE of the US is a potential site for the re-establishment of this disease. Portugal, France, Croatia and Greece have all reported outbreaks in recent years.  More than a million people die around the world each year from it.

Chikungunya Fever is another, formerly tropical disease that has made its way to Europe and the Americas. An outbreak in northeastern Italy in 2007 struck.

These sometimes fatal and often crippling diseases have a common thread. They all are spread by mosquitoes. They thrive in warm, moist places.

Earth has warmed about 0.6 degrees Celsius since modern record keeping. This may seem insignificant, but it is enough to allow disease spreading insects to colonize new territories.

Vulnerability to insect borne diseases increases as crowding and poverty increases. Population increases and competition for resources trigger civil conflicts resulting in refugees that may have been in poor health who serve as a pool of potential disease. Overcrowding in refugee camps serves to further exacerbate a difficult situation. Crowding into urban areas provides better opportunities for insects to spread disease. Mosquitoes can successfully breed in small amounts of stagnant water – discarded plastic cups, tins, old tires – all serve as nurseries for them.

Agricultural practises can make the breeding of mosquitoes more successful. Irrigation and damming can create ideal hatcheries for the little blood suckers.

Countries around the world are facing financial hardship. Whether it is called a recession, depression or privation, public health often suffers. Measures to control insects, air conditioning, effective screening of dwellings, good clothing to keep out biting insects, treated netting all become too costly to provide to the very poor. It does no good to tell a homeless person that they should at least sleep inside a treated net. Where would they hang it? From a tree?

As we move forward into a warmer world, illnesses that we used to think of as tropical will encroach on our safe havens. In the modern “global village” an epidemic is only a plane ride away. We cannot sit safely in our temperate climates. We need to incorporate the best public health methods that we can. In the long run, it will be a cost saving measure. As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

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