Thursday, February 25, 2010

Climate Change makes my Allergies Worse

Over the past month, I’ve been listening to lectures on sustainability on iTunes U from the University of New Hampshire. A few days ago, I was listening to Paul R. Epstein talking about human health and climate change. His research appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Not surprising, climate change is not good for human health. Extreme weather events will increase with climate change. Extreme precipitation increases the risk of waterborne disease while droughts can cause a food shortages. It will be the poorer countries that will sufferer the most of course.
Mosquitoes, which can carry many diseases, are very sensitive to temperature changes. Warming of their environment - within their viable range - boosts their rates of reproduction and the number of blood meals they take, prolongs their breeding season, and shortens the maturation period for the microbes they disperse.
West Nile virus' rapid spread, according to Epstein, is attributed to climate change. On the positive side, the crow population has seen a large reduction in numbers which has actually increased biodiversity with other song-birds coming back.

The most interesting piece of information was the connection between climate change and allergies.
But even more subtle, gradual climatic changes can damage human health. During the past two decades, the prevalence of asthma in the United States has quadrupled, in part because of climate-related factors. For Caribbean islanders, respiratory irritants come in dust clouds that emanate from Africa's expanding deserts and are then swept across the Atlantic by trade winds accelerated by the widening pressure gradients over warming oceans. Increased levels of plant pollen and soil fungi may also be involved. When ragweed is grown in conditions with twice the ambient level of carbon dioxide, the stalks sprout 10 percent taller than controls but produce 60 percent more pollen. Elevated carbon dioxide levels also promote the growth and sporulation of some soil fungi, and diesel particles help to deliver these aeroallergens deep into our alveoli and present them to immune cells along the way.
I guess me and my inhaler are going to become better friends in the future. Check out the full article in the New England Journal of Medicine.

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