Doctors Warn Climate Change Threatens Public Health – By Kavya Balaraman, E&E News on March 17, 2017


Physicians are noticing an influx of patients whose illnesses are directly or indirectly related to global warming

Credit: Santiago Urquijo Getty Images

Credit: Santiago Urquijo Getty Images

Growing up in southwestern Pennsylvania, Patrice Tomcik had never heard of Lyme disease — an infectious, flu-like illness transmitted by ticks.

But in the last few years, five of her friends have caught it, she’s had to have her dog vaccinated and she regularly finds herself pulling ticks off her children. It can be disconcerting, she said, having to worry about an illness that she had never been exposed to in the past.

“It’s getting warmer, so the season for ticks is lasting longer,” said Tomcik, a field consultant with Moms Clean Air Force. “There are so many more of them, and they just don’t die off. It’s a big issue here in Pennsylvania, because we have so much wood. Our family has 29 acres of land out in the woods, and I’m picking ticks off my dog and my kids like I’ve never seen before.”

Lyme disease isn’t the only contagious illness that is venturing into new territories under a shifting climate. Across the country, physicians are noticing an influx of patients whose illnesses, they say, are directly or indirectly related to climate change. Now, 11 medical associations — representing around half the doctors and physicians in the country — are creating a group that intends to address the links between climate change and health risks.

“I view this as one of the largest environmental health crises of our time because of the many pathways in which climate affects us — be it from direct heat effects and heat waves in urban centers, ground-level smog, ozone red alert days, stagnant air masses and warmer temperatures, to some infectious diseases,” said Jonathan Patz, director of the Global Health Institute at the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

The group, called the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health, intends to advocate for climate change and health awareness among the public and policymakers. Mona Sarfaty, director of the consortium, said its message is one of urgency: “that climate change is harming the health of Americans and that we have to act now.”

“We wish to start that conversation and are eager to talk to everybody about it. We will be speaking to people in environmental organizations, we’ll be speaking to members of Congress, we’ll be sending reports and having conversations with other policymakers throughout the country,” she added.

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