April 9, 2011

AMA says climate change is affecting health

The AMA published an editorial today describing the links between our health and climate change. The editorial focused on the very different consequences of climate change they are seeing in Maine and in Florida. 


If physicians want evidence of climate change, they may well find it in their own offices. Patients are presenting with illnesses that once happened only in warmer areas. Chronic conditions are becoming aggravated by more frequent and extended heat waves. Allergy and asthma seasons are getting longer. Spates of injuries are resulting from more intense ice storms and snowstorms.
Scientific evidence shows that the world's climate is changing and that the results have public health consequences.
Rising air and water temperatures and rising ocean levels since the late 1960s have increased the severity of weather, including hurricanes and droughts, and the production of ground-level ozone.
That means more asthma and respiratory illnesses, more heat stroke and exhaustion, and exacerbation of chronic conditions such as heart disease. Florida's large elderly population makes it even more vulnerable to climate change. In the last two years, the Florida Keys have seen a tropical disease rarely apparent in residents of the United States -- dengue fever.
Maine is seeing similar trends in terms of climate affecting chronic conditions, although instead of injuries from hurricanes, it's expected to have a rising rate of heart attacks and problems related to extreme snow, ice and cold. Climate change produces weather extremes on both ends of the temperature spectrum. In Maine, that's being seen in a marked increase of Lyme disease. It has risen tenfold in 10 years, particularly in the central and northern parts of the state, which had not seen the disease until recently.
The examples of Florida and Maine show how vector-borne diseases are spreading because of climate change. In Florida, changes in migration patterns and temperatures allow for dengue-infected mosquitoes to circulate. In Maine, warmer and shorter winters mean that deer ticks die off in smaller numbers, which means more will breed and advance farther north.
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