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May 29, 2024

Climate change causing rise in diarrheal diseases globally

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Jan 19, 2024

The effects of climate change are being felt around the world, with rising temperatures and more extreme weather events. Recently, researchers have found evidence linking climate change to an increase in diarrheal diseases in both children and adults. This could have major public health implications if left unchecked.

Warmer temperatures spread bacteria

A new study published on January 18th in the journal Nature Climate Change shows a correlation between rising temperatures and an increase in bacteria that causes diarrheal diseases. The research team analyzed over 35,000 cases of diarrheal disease from all over the world along with local temperature data.

They found that for every degree Celsius of warming, there was a 2-10% increase in cases of diarrheal diseases stemming from bacteria such as E.coli and Salmonella. These bacteria thrive in warmer and wetter conditions brought on by climate change.

As Dr. Sari Kovats, study author from the University of Surrey explains:

“Diarrhoeal diseases are very sensitive to temperature, probably because bacteria grow better and survive longer in food and water at higher temperatures. Even small changes in temperature can make a big difference with these bacteria.”

This evidence points to climate change enabling the spread of diarrheal diseases through increased bacterial growth and contamination. Experts warn these trends are likely to continue as temperatures rise globally.

Children most at risk

While diarrheal diseases affect people of all ages, children under 5 are especially vulnerable. Currently diarrhea is the second leading cause of death among young children after pneumonia.

Researchers estimate that over 500,000 children under 5 die from diarrheal diseases every year, with the vast majority of cases occurring in developing countries:

Region % of under 5 diarrheal deaths
Sub-Saharan Africa over 50%
South Asia 26%
Rest of the world 23%

A separate research initiative by University of Virginia scientists along with the University Medical Center Amsterdam is investigating the link between climate change and childhood diarrhea specifically.

They will collect data over the next four years in Africa and South Asia to map out hotspots where children will be most vulnerable to climate impacts. The goal is to help governments and aid agencies better prepare and target health interventions where they are needed most.

Predictions of higher mortality

Based on the current trajectories, experts are warning that the health consequences could be severe globally if climate change remains unchecked.

The dramatic increase in bacteria combined with warmer average temperatures poses a major risk for more frequent and deadly diarrheal disease outbreaks. This is particularly true in developing countries where access to clean water and sanitation systems is limited.

As Dr. Kovats predicts based on the research:

“We could see almost 40,000 additional deaths in young children per year from diarrhoeal disease by the end of the century unless considerable action is taken to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

While climate mitigation efforts are underway, researchers stress the need to also improve infrastructure in vulnerable developing nations to strengthen resilience. Having access to clean water and proper sanitation systems will continue to be a key barrier in managing this threat.

Proactive investment in public health systems will be vital. As will continued research and modeling to map where intervention is most critical to save lives.

Ongoing research and next steps

The connection between rising temperatures and diarrheal diseases marks a worrying trend at the intersection of climate change and health. Still this field of study is relatively new, with several unknowns that warrant further investigation.

Key next steps for research identified include:

  • Expanding data collection in Africa, South Asia and vulnerable regions
  • Enhancing disease surveillance systems to detect outbreaks earlier
  • Improving modeling capabilities to predict hotspots and project mortality
  • Testing interventions and preparedness strategies in at-risk locations
  • Monitoring antibiotic resistance patterns as bacteria mutate

While the outlook may seem bleak, the research also brings much needed clarity on this emerging threat. Armed with greater evidence and targeted solutions, there is hope that the most devastating impacts can be avoided.

But it will require dedication from scientists, governments, policy makers and health organizations to come together. Only through collaboration and swift action can progress be made to save lives in this climate affected world.

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AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

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