The devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy has prompted a renewed discussion about climate change. Political leaders and climate scientists alike have raised concerns about the relationship between global warming and an increase in the number of extreme weather events. In addition to these concerns, climate change may also increase the threat of neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) here in the U.S. NTD transmission depends heavily on environmental conditions and warming temperatures may increase the severity or change the patterns of these diseases.
For example, funded by a grant from the Department of Defense, researchers at Texas Tech determined that climate change will allow dengue to thrive in the U.S. Historically found only in tropical regions, rising temperatures will allow the range of dengue-infected mosquitoes to shift north, increasing the risk of dengue within the continental U.S. We may already be seeing the first evidence of this shift – three cases of dengue fever have been reported in Florida in the past few weeks. Similarly, climate change is one suspected culprit in this year’s West Nile outbreak, as CDC officials note that unusually warm weather in 2012 may have played a role.
However, additional research is necessary to fully understand the impact of climate change on the range and transmission of NTDs. Even experts in the field have called for more research into the issue, arguing that “not enough attention is being paid to climate change in relation to NTD control.” They recommend improving NTD surveillance systems and increasing investment in field research, which will not only allow for the establishment of more effective NTD control programs worldwide, but will help the U.S. better understand and protect against these diseases here at home.
-Morgan McCloskey, global health intern