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Changing Climate and Public Health

Posted Apr 25 2011 10:07pm

A CDC Feature Article

The environmental consequences of climate change are happening now and are expected to increase in the future. Signs of a changing climate include:

sea-level rise,
changes in precipitation causing flooding and drought,
heat waves,
more intense hurricanes and storms, and
poor air quality.

These climate changes will affect human health both directly and indirectly.

Addressing the health effects of climate change is challenging. The issue is broad and complex. Both the surrounding environment and the decisions people make can influence human health. Research is needed in a number of areas, especially in how the changing climate affects the spread of diseases such as Malaria and Dengue Fever which are spread by mosquitoes.

CDC launched the Climate-Ready States and Cities Initiative funding 8 state health departments and two city health departments to support climate and health programs. As the nation’s lead public health agency, CDC is using its prevention expertise to help state and city health departments investigate, prepare for, and respond to the health effects of a changing climate.

A CDC-funded program will engage climate change observers in Alaska. Over the last several decades, Alaska has warmed twice as fast as the rest of the country. Dozens of Alaskan natives will become part of the sentinel surveillance system, created by the Institute for Circumpolar Health Studies at the University of Alaska Anchorage. They will document changes in weather, harvesting, and food and water safety. They will also record health changes, such as shellfish poisoning caused by “red tide” algae blooms. In addition, Alaskan villagers will be trained to collect data on temperature and precipitation in eight communities. In isolated villages, some effects of climate change may have gone unnoticed by the scientific world, but this study could help fill in those gaps.

CDC is working to develop an Extreme Heat Communication Toolkit. As a result of the changing climate, heat waves are expected to become more severe and more frequent, particularly in the northern latitudes. The toolkit is designed to provide information for older adults, people with a chronic medical condition, children, the homeless or poor, outdoor workers, and athletes at risk of heat sickness. Learn more about how to protect yourself from heat related illness.

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