Infectious diseases and global warming - climate change is increasingly threatening health

Infectious diseases and global warming - climate change is increasingly threatening health

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Researchers warn of the serious health consequences of climate change

The topic of climate change has dominated the media not only since the devastating forest fires in Australia. Water shortages and food shortages - researchers have already dealt with these impending consequences of global warming in detail and most of us are now aware of these risks. But now scientists are warning of further dangers that the rising temperatures entail.

Heat as a risk factor for health

Professor Rexford S. Ahima, director of the Department of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism at the renowned Johns Hopkins University of Medicine, explains in a recent article the fatal effects of increasing heat on the human body.

The article appeared in the "Journal of Clinical Investigation". Ahima proves that heat is already the greatest health threat of all weather catastrophes. In the United States, an average of 1,500 people die each year from the consequences of extreme heat, significantly more than, for example, the cold, storms or floods. If the global temperature continues to rise, there will also be more heat and more deaths.

The human body needs a relatively stable temperature in order to function well: "The core temperature, on average 37 ° C, is strictly controlled in a range from 33.2 ° C to 38.2 ° C, which ensures optimal physiological function", explains Professor Ahima. Through sweating and other natural measures, our body can only adapt to a certain degree of heat.

If the heat lasts longer, if it is too strong or the body is already weakened, it can lead to dangerous overheating. Ahima describes heat cramps, heat-induced fatigue and heat stroke as possible physical reactions. Without additional aids such as air conditioning, fans or cooling pads, the body temperature rises too high, which in the worst case can be fatal.

Professor Ahima paints a bleak picture for the future: "As heat waves become more frequent, severe and longer, we expect more heat-related diseases and deaths, especially among children, the elderly, people with chronic health problems and poor or underserved communities."

New diseases due to changing temperatures

However, rising temperatures around the world are threatening mankind in another way: they could lead to pathogens changing and new, dangerous infectious diseases arising. Arturo Casadevall, Professor of Molecular Microbiology, Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Johns Hopkins University, warns of this in an article also published in the "Journal of Clinical Investigation".

"As microbes can adapt to higher temperatures, there is concern that global warming will produce microbes with higher heat tolerance," said Casadevall. Human immune defense has not yet been adapted to these new pathogens; the immune response of the temperature increase (increased temperature, fever) does not affect these pathogens due to their heat adaptation.

“When these threats occur, medicine will face new infectious diseases with which it has no experience. Although experiences with Lyme disease, HIV, SARS coronaviruses, Zika virus and C. auris show that medicine and science can finally successfully respond to unknown microbes with new diagnostics, control measures and therapeutics, effective reactions take time, and in the meantime countless human lives have been lost. "

Preventive measures

In their articles, the two scientists name some specific measures that humanity can use to prepare for the challenges ahead. This includes, for example, increased disease control so that new diseases can be identified more quickly and counteracted. However, the most important preventive measure would be to stop climate change. And each and every one of us can do something for that.

For example, by throttling your heating a bit, leaving your car parked more often and switching to public transport or the bike instead, you are already making a small contribution. In addition, you could avoid meat more often and buy locally-grown food.

Compared to the possible consequences in the future, such as thousands of additional heat deaths and dangerous new infectious diseases, a little renunciation in the present is clearly the lesser evil. (kh)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the specifications of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Magistra Artium (M.A.) Katja Helbig


  • Johns Hopkins Medicine, Newsroom: Johns Hopkins Researchers: Climate Change Threatens to Unlock New Microbes and Increase Heat-Related Illness and Death, (published 01/22/2020), Johns Hopkins Medicine, Newsroom
  • Rexford S. Ahima: Global warming threatens human thermoregulation and survival; in: The Journal of Clinical Investigation (published January 6, 2020), JCI
  • Arturo Casadevall: Climate change brings the specter of new infectious diseases; in: The Journal of Clinical Investigation (published January 6, 2020), JCI

Video: A Global Swarming: Infectious Diseases and Climate Change - Richard L. Oehler, MD (September 2022).


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