Environmental Stewardship

by John Berge

I have frequently written about the problems of climate change — specifically global warming — due to man-made increases in carbon dioxide levels in the air. Recent readings of nearly 400 ppm [parts per million] are the highest in the last 6000 years and probably since the age of the dinosaurs! But I haven’t written much about the relationship of these changes with public’s health.

mosquitoLast January, Yale University’s Climate and Energy Institute held a forum of 90 scientists from across the country, “Integration of Climate Change and Infectious Disease Research.” While many direct impacts of climate change on non-contagious diseases such as heat stroke and respiratory diseases have been well documented, much less research has been done on infectious diseases such as influenza, malaria, West Nile virus, and Lyme Disease.

Increasing temperatures, such as we have recently experienced are bringing tropical and semi-tropical vector-borne diseases further north. (Vector-borne means the disease causing organism is carried to its victims by such pests as mosquitoes and ticks.) Dr. Maria Diuk-Wasser of the Yale School of Public Health has documented increases and northern migration of diseases such as Lyme disease, West Nile virus, dengue fever and babesiosis. (Babesiosis was a new disease for me; it is transmitted by ticks and attacks the red blood cells, even to the point of causing anemia in some people, especially the elderly or those with lowered immune systems.) Lyme disease is now the most commonly reported vector-borne disease in the nation.

So how does this all relate to environmental stewardship? It is one more very important reason to reduce our carbon footprint, to reduce our dependence upon fossil fuels for our energy needs. Renewable forms of energy and energy efficiencies are the best ways to accomplish this reduction in carbon dioxide production. Secondly, we should protect ourselves from the vectors that carry the micro-organisms to us. Mosquitoes and ticks top the list. Repellents, mosquito netting, screens, and simply choosing better times to be in hazardous places are better protection than wholesale use of insecticides that kill the good insects along with the varmints.

By the way, nasty as they are, bed bugs are not known to be a vector for any human diseases.

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