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Entries in Climate Change (2)

Monday
Apr092012

Are Temperature Swings Killing the Elderly?

Comstock/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- After the warmest March on record, people are already talking about whether a scorching summer lies ahead.

It turns out that even small changes in summer temperature may pose a health risk to older adults with chronic medical conditions, according to a study published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

Summers in which temperatures were more of a roller-coaster ride posed a greater hazard for people who had recently been hospitalized for a variety of illnesses than those summers with steadier temperatures.

The study looked at patients over the age of 65 who lived in one of 135 U.S. cities for over 20 years, and who had recently been hospitalized for heart attacks, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, congestive heart failure, or diabetes.

Researchers found that for each extra Celsius degree in temperature swings, older people with these conditions experienced a 2.8 to four percent increased risk of dying, depending on their condition. Based on these increases in rates, they estimate temperature variability could account for thousands of additional deaths per year.

“People adapt to the usual temperature in their city,” says Joel Schwartz, professor of environmental epidemiology at the Harvard School of Public Health and senior author of the study. “That is why we don’t expect higher mortality rates in Miami than in Minneapolis, despite the higher temperatures. But people do not adapt as well to increased fluctuations around the usual temperature.”

“This finding, combined with the increasing age of the population, the increasing prevalence of chronic conditions such as diabetes, and possible increases in temperature fluctuations due to climate change, means this public health problem is likely to grow in importance in the future,” Schwartz said.

The study notes that death rates and temperature swings were dampened in cities with more green space. Could trees help prevent deaths going forward?

Another potential intervention could include warning systems to be put in place when temperatures change by a certain amount.

“These findings are the first to demonstrate health risks related to temperature variability,” says Patrick Kinney, director of the Columbia University Climate and Health Program.

The study looked at temperature changes independent of heat waves and ozone levels, which are also linked to an increased risk of death in the elderly. Future work will focus on why the elderly do not adapt as well to heat, and whether changes in heart rate and blood pressure may be driving the increased risk.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

Friday
Apr012011

How Climate Change May Make Killer Diseases Worse

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Malaria already kills a million people a year and now, researchers fear, climate change could make the problem even worse.

Working with the Kenya Meteorological Department, Madeleine Thomson, a senior research scientist for the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, has found that temperatures have increased significantly since the 1980s in the Kenyan Highlands.

Thomson, who has been working in Africa for the past 25 years, has looked at the possibility of increased risk of malaria from a rise in global temperatures for the past 10.

"Malaria is an appalling disease, particularly for those that don't have immunity, such as foreigners, young children and pregnant women and also the people who live in the highlands who normally don't get malaria," Thomson said.

"When I visited Tigre, a mountainous region in Ethiopia, I met people with malaria in the highlands and they were trying to understand what was going on," Thompson said. "We know that the rises in temperature that have been recorded at this site can significantly increase malaria. And it's the combination of climate change, drug resistant malaria and poor health conditions that can completely devastate an area."

Around the world, climate change is impacting human health -- from recent floods in India, Nepal and Bangladesh that have caused widespread waterborne disease that the U.N. attributes to global warming, to malaria-infected mosquitoes migrating to increasingly high elevations in the mountains of Africa.

"Climate change will touch the pillars of our health, food, water and shelter," Dr. Maria Neira, director of public health and environment for the World Health Organization, told ABC News. "In Asia, there are more people at risk of dengue fever due to global warming. In Mount Kenya, mosquitoes are being found at higher and higher elevations."

Others agree with her that the malaria could become an even bigger problem as the climate changes.

"As temperatures have been increasing, the mosquitoes that are transmitting the disease have better conditions to breed, reproduce, and transmit the disease," Neira said. "Vector-borne diseases are expanding their reach and death tolls."

As warming likely causes seawater level to rises, underground freshwater aquifers likely will get contaminated. Drought likely will continue to impact fresh water supplies for millions of people around the world, and more people will be forced to move.

Since 2008, Los Angeles, which gets a portion of its drinking water from the Colorado River, has faced long-term drought because of global warming. The river suffers from low volume and rising water temperatures. The shrinking river has raised health concerns for the 30 million people in seven states who depend on it for their water supply.

For humans to survive, they need fresh water. According to the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, Antonio Guterres, climate change could become the biggest driver of human displacement.

"Displacement causes conflict, creates a lot of health stress on the people who are displaced and the people taking in the refugees," Solomon said. "It can encourage the spread of disease from one part of the world to another. As people move, they can carry diseases with them."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio