The unfolding climate crisis will create new challenges for medical and public health professionals. Clinical Climate Change 2020 will highlight the latest research and clinical updates on disease areas including: cardiovascular and respiratory disease, heat-related illness, allergies and asthma, vector-borne and waterborne illness, mental health, and nutrition, as well as policies aimed at protecting workforces and the general population from a wide variety of climate-related impacts.
Cardiovascular and Respiratory Diseases
Air pollution is toxic to the cardiovascular, neurological and respiratory systems. Interactions between air pollution, rising temperatures, and location specific risk factors create higher risk for some patients and populations. Population planning and clinical management of high-risk patients will require an understanding of these interactions as climate change continues to worsen.
Hospitalizations for heat-related illnesses continue to climb at an unprecedented rate. Models suggest that global warming in the United States could lead to an additional 28,000 deaths annually due to extreme heat by the 2090s. Vulnerable groups such as children, the chronically ill and the elderly, as well as outdoor workers are most at risk. Clinicians and public health planners need accurate information to meet this growing threat.
Allergies and Asthma
More than 50 million Americans suffer from allergic diseases annually, making it the sixth leading cause of chronic illness in the United States. A Increasing levels of carbon dioxide increase the proliferation of airborne allergens such as pollen and mold. Ground level ozone pollution is worsened by heat and together with pollen can greatly exacerbate respiratory illnesses such asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), and rhinitis.
Vector-borne and Waterborne Illnesses
The changing climate is altering the habitats or many infectious diseases with many disease-causing organisms now found in locations never seen before. Rising temperature and increased humidity are alternating the life cycles and disease transmission rates of ticks and mosquitos. Increased precipitation and flooding can increase human exposure to waterborne pathogens. Public health and medical works will need up-to-date information to recognize, treat, and plan for the rapidly changing infectious disease landscape.
The mental health burden of the climate crisis includes PTSD resulting from weather disasters as well as the exacerbation of mental illness related to temperature increases. Recent studies show that rising temperatures increase suicidality and violence. Air pollution is emerging as a causative in dementia and reduced cognitive functioning.
Climate change is emerging as a serious threat to the food supply. Rising carbon dioxide levels may lead to reductions in nutrient levels in staple crops and rising temperatures are altering the hardiness growing zones for many plants. Clinicians and policy makers will need accurate information to continue to meet the nutritional needs of patients and populations.