* Climate change likely to spread diseases

Issue 

WASHINGTON, DC — Medical experts have confirmed that changes in global climate due to the burning of oil, coal and gas, and the release of ozone-depleting chemicals, are likely to accelerate the already unprecedented emergence of infectious diseases. At the US National Press Club on January 16, the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) and Johns Hopkins University School of Hygiene and Public Health released a study, "Global Climate Change and Emerging Infectious Diseases", which concurs with earlier reports from the world's most eminent scientists on the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC). The JAMA study confirms the December conclusion of the 2500 IPCC scientists: "Climate change is likely to have wide ranging and mostly adverse impacts on human health, with significant loss of life". They also concluded, "The balance of evidence suggests a discernible human influence on global climate". The study explores possible compounding effects of global climate change and immune suppression caused by increasing levels of ultraviolet-B radiation (UV-B) striking the earth due to depletion of the earth's protective ozone layer. "Scientists have already warned us that climate change may supercharge the depletion of the ozone layer", said John Passacantando, executive director of the Washington, DC-based environmental group Ozone Action. "However, we must now also consider that, as depletion worsens over populated areas, more UV-B radiation-induced immune suppression in humans may worsen the impact of increased infectious disease transmission." The JAMA study indicates that the geographic distribution of insect-borne and other infectious disease is disproportionately felt in the developing countries of the tropics and subtropics. Mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria, dengue, yellow fever, encephalitis and other viruses are extremely sensitive to climatic fluctuations. The recent climate-related emergence of a new hantavirus in the US demonstrates that developed countries can also be affected by emerging microbes. "The health impacts of climate change caused by burning coal, oil and gas are clearly dangerous and unacceptable", said Erwin Jackson, climate impacts specialist from Greenpeace International. "These alarming findings must urgently be followed up by action to reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. Governments must stop procrastinating; otherwise they risk delaying action until it is too late." Jackson said that, throughout the developed world, emissions continue to rise in spite of the commitments in the UN climate convention to stabilise emissions at 1990 levels by the year 2000. At the negotiations now under way to develop further agreements on emissions, most governments are prevaricating under pressure from the oil and coal industry. Jackson recently published an article in the Medical Journal of Australia that identifies climatic changes as a cause of the changes in the distribution of disease carriers and agents in Europe, Africa, Asia, Latin America and Australia.
[Information from a Greenpeace press release.]

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