Experts discuss global health effects of climate change

11 Oct 2010

World-leading experts are gathering at the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm today (11 Oct) to discuss the health hazards associated with climate change.

The symposium is part of the 200-year anniversary celebrations of the Institute.

Extreme weather phenomena such as heat waves, hurricanes, floods, drought and forest fires are expected to increase in frequency as the mean global temperature rises.

These can result in humanitarian disasters, especially in densely populated areas like the large Asian deltas. Already, an increasing number of more intense heat waves, such as the one that claimed 30,000 lives in Europe in 2003, and ever-more severe floods are being observed around the world. On the other hand, fatal hypothermia, frost-bite and other health effects of low temperatures will decrease as the winter climate grows milder.

The concentration of harmful particles and ground-level ozone will be affected by a change in climate. Pollen-producing plants, such as the strongly allergy-inducing ragweed, might spread to new areas and the onset of seasonal illness might change.

Exposure to prolonged high temperatures causes health problems and mortality, particularly among elderly people with cardiovascular or pulmonary disorders. The risks vary considerably from place to place depending on how well people (physiologically or behaviourally) and buildings are adapted to higher exterior and interior temperatures.

With today’s more extensive transport networks, infectious agents and species are spreading more quickly around the globe. Some of them will thrive in new areas when the climate changes. Malaria mosquitoes have already been observed at higher altitudes in South America and Asia, and ticks are appearing at more northerly latitudes in Sweden.

The first ever outbreak in Europe of tropical dengue fever was reported recently. Climate change also brings a greater risk of water and food-borne infections and of new diseases, such as vibriosis in Sweden.


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