Thursday, February 18, 2016
Global Warming’s Personal Health Threat (?)
It had to happen: Now the Zika virus is caused by global warming. Since there has been no warming for over 18 years that is simply a lie. And if warming does resume and tropical diseases move poleward that will be no great problem. I grew up in the tropics so I can assure one and all that proper public health measures make life in the tropics no more onerous than anywhere else. But I grew up in an advanced country. Backward tropical countries are a different kettle of fish -- not to be generalized from
When you think of the planet warming up, what are the primary threats you perceive? Rising seas? More hurricanes and tornadoes? Mass extinction of species? Those are the events many people would likely dismiss, especially if they don’t live too close to the sea or in a hurricane or tornado zone.
Partly because I cover the biotech world, when I think of global warming, I think of personal health risks — real risks to me and my family.
As the planet warms, more people who live in temperate climates like the United States are going to get sick — a lot more people. Extreme heat waves in summer will kill more people. Air pollution and temperature inversions will sicken many more people. Cases of asthma and allergies will rise. Droughts will diminish the food supply. We’ll literally run out of drinking water in certain areas. Algae blooms will make seafood poisonous. Floods will wash away houses where floods have never happened before.
The biggest danger to Americans from warming trends is easily missed — a tiny insect that’s really tough to control. The mosquito can bring us yellow fever, malaria, dengue, chikungunya and other diseases that have been rare in the United States. And make no mistake — these diseases are coming our way sooner rather than later.
The mosquito can bring us yellow fever, malaria, dengue, chikungunya and other diseases that have been rare in the United States. And make no mistake — these diseases are coming our way sooner rather than later.
So when the mosquito-vectored Zika virus showed up in Texas last month, I wasn’t surprised. Since then, we’ve seen something of a panic, with governors of states declaring health emergencies and calling for the Olympics in Brazil to be canceled. The World Health Organization has declared the virus to be an international health emergency. Men who have the virus — or who have had it — are now supposed to use a condom when having sex with pregnant partners, says the Centers for Disease Control. Whether a woman can pass the virus to a man sexually is unknown. A lot is unknown about the virus.
The potential results of a pregnant woman getting the virus may obviously be devastating to the fetus, yet the virus itself is only a mild health threat to the person who gets it. About 80% of people who get the Zika virus don’t even know they have it, although the disease can cause rashes, pinkeye, fevers, joint pains and conjunctivitis. There is no treatment because we have few effective antiviral medications. There is also no proof, other than circumstantial and epidemiological, that the virus actually does cause smaller heads and brain damage to fetuses — microcephaly.
Several types of mosquitoes in the United States can carry Zika, as well as yellow fever, dengue, chikungunya and malaria. Those diseases, largely unheard of in this country in recent decades, are likely to make a significant resurgence in America’s south. Because Zika is similar to diseases like dengue, a vaccine for it was already in the works and is likely to be developed within two years, says Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
But the Indians may have beaten the Americans to it. A company in Hyderabad, India, claims to have developed a vaccine for the Zika virus and to have filed a patent application for it nine months ago. The vaccine has not been put through human trials yet.
Meanwhile, prepare yourself for more tropical diseases to make their way north into the United States.
Posted by John J. Ray (M.A.; Ph.D.).