The Connection Between Climate and Public Health

by |June 1, 2016

Yesterday, Linda Fried, the dean of the Mailman School of Public Health, wrote about the crucial connection between climate and public health in a piece for the Huffington Post. Understanding and anticipating the ways in which climate change and variability can adversely affect human health, she wrote, requires a global commitment to share science and best practices that links to decision making.

Dog ticks (left) and black legged or deer ticks (right). The latter spread Lyme disease in the eastern United States. Climate variability can influence the spread of Lyme and other vector-borne diseases. Photo: Jim Occi

Dog ticks (left) and black legged or deer ticks (right). The latter spread Lyme disease in the eastern United States. Climate variability can influence the spread of Lyme and other vector-borne diseases. Photo: Jim Occi

That’s one major reason that the International Research Institute for Climate and Society and Mailman are hosting a Health and Climate Colloquium June 8-10 at Columbia’s Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory campus.

The purpose of the three-day event is to help build a global community of health practitioners and policymakers that understand and can use climate information to support health delivery and improved outcomes in the context of a changing climate. The meeting will focus on infectious diseases, nutrition and the public health outcomes of meteorological disasters.

While the colloquium is by invitation only, the entire event will be livestreamed. The organizers and their partners will also be providing live updates on Twitter using the #healthclimate2016 hashtag on Twitter.

“In North America, changing weather patterns in both hemispheres are causing alarming disruptions,” Fried wrote in the Huffington Post. “A relatively dry El Niño winter and a warm spring that melted snow earlier-than-normal created forest fires that forced the evacuation of 80,000 Alberta residents and destroyed more than 702,000 acres—about 1,096 square miles. The Zika virus is entering the United States from the Caribbean, and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimates that at least 20 percent of Puerto Rico’s 3.5 million residents will become infected with the mosquito-borne virus this year. … The climate shocks associated with natural variability, such as El Niño, are being compounded by longer-term climatic trends—particularly in temperature—which facilitate further spread of the disease.”

To find out more about the connections between climate and public health, check out the recent report by the interagency U.S. Global Change Research Program titled “The Impacts of Climate Change on Human Health in the United States: A Scientific Assessment.”

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