Global warming could mean more than rising ocean levels and severe weather. A Yale scientist is now claiming climate change could lead to a greater population of the world’s most annoying pest: the mosquito.
Along with the increased population, mosquito-borne illnesses are expected to rise.
According to Maria Diuk-Wasser of the Yale School of Public Health, the logic behind the prediction of increased cases of malaria, dengue fever and West Nile virus goes something like this: As the global climate begins to warm and sea levels rise, more mosquito-friendly habitats — warm, humid areas — will be created, leading to an increase in larval development rates.
This, in turn, will lead to a higher pathogen development rate — more mosquitoes feasting on humans — which will lead to more cases of mosquito-related illnesses.
“The direct effects of temperature increase are an increase in immature mosquito development, virus development and mosquito biting rates, which increase contact rates (biting) with humans,” Diuk-Wasser told the Yale Daily News. “Indirect effects are linked to how humans manage water given increased uncertainty in the water supply caused by climate change.”
Diuk-Wasser isn’t alone in her assessment of the wide-reaching insect-related consequences of climate change. Gerald Friedland, professor of medicine and epidemiology and public health at the Yale School of Medicine, says environmental changes will “alter patterns and intensity of some infectious diseases,” according to the Yale Daily News.
The expected rise in mosquito-related illnesses comes on the heels of a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicating that 2012 was a near-record-breaking year for cases of West Nile virus. In 2012, the CDC recorded 5,674 cases of West Nile virus, stemming from 48 states, and 286 cases that led to death.
Dengue fever, a mosquito-borne illness, is also on the rise. According to the CDC, 357 cases of dengue were reported in the continental United States in 2012, an increase of 70 percent over 2011. Symptoms of the disease include high fever, severe pain behind the eyes, joint pain, rashes and severe headaches, according to the CDC. If not treated, it can be fatal. There are no vaccines to protect against dengue fever, according to the CDC.
While cases of dengue fever aren’t all that common in the U.S., particularly in the north, climate change could change that.
According to Roddy Scheer and Doug Moss of Earth Talk, global warming impacts in the southern portion of the U.S. are expected to cause flooding. The resulting increase in disease will “no doubt be spreading north on the backs of mosquitoes into U.S. states that never thought they would have to deal with such exotic outbreaks.”
Another mosquito-related disease expected to increase its presence in the U.S. is Rift Valley fever. It began in Kenya, and has since spread throughout the African continent. According to Scheer and Moss, it’s likely to be in Europe and the U.S. soon, although no timeframe is estimated. The symptoms of the disease include fever, vision loss and dizziness.
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