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Heat Stress, Infectious Diseases and Mental Health Threats: The Human Dangers of Climate Change

Feb 20, 2017 09:25 AM EST
East Coast Withers In Summer Heat Wave
Heat stress – mostly during heat waves – caused the most climate-related deaths on average in the past 30 years in the United States.
(Photo : Photo by Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

It's easy to ignore the effects of climate change when it's not directly affecting humans. The world is way past that point though, as scientists say the rapidly rising climate takes a physical and mental toll on people around the world.

In the Climate & Health conference held at the Carter Center in Atlanta last Thursday, experts discussed the direct effects climate change is having on human health. According to a report from CNN, the event was hosted by former U.S. Vice President Al Gore along with the American Public Health Association and over 50 organizations.

One of the subjects touched upon was World Health Organization's (WHO) projection that climate change will cause 250,000 additional deaths per year between 2030 and 2050 due to malaria, diarrhoea and heat stress.

Gore pointed out that heat stress -- mostly during heat waves -- caused the most climate-related deaths on average in the past 30 years in the U.S., although flooding took first place in 2015 alone.

Aside from being too hot for the human body to handle, the warmer temperature also fosters an environment that is ideal for the spread of infectious diseases such as mosquito-borne diseases. One example is the recent bout of Zika virus around the world.

"From November to January, there have been 5,000, or 4,000 or more, cases of Zika in Puerto Rico," Gore pointed out during his keynote speech at the conference.

Mental health isn't spared from the dangers of the rising heat either. Dr. Lise Van Susteren, a psychiatrist and advisory board member for the Center for Health and the Global Environment at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, called climate change a "threat multiplier," which means it is known to make mental health problems worse, according to a report from Live Science.

A study in 2013 explained the connection between extreme climate and aggression or conflict between individuals and groups, possibly due to higher temperatures boosting adrenaline content in the body.

Van Susteren also shared the effect of increasing air pollution to the brain, saying that particulate matter in pollution can enter the olfactory nerve and cause neural inflammation. Neural inflammation is related to numerous disorders such as Alzheimer's disease.

Research has also shown that pregnant women exposed to pollutants have children at higher risk from anxiety and depression.

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