With the publication of part two of four of the United Nation’s I.P.C.C. report on global warming it has been shown what will happen if we do not take steps to slow it down. One item mentioned in the report, that has more important implications for humanity than rising sea levels and increased global temperatures, is the spread of disease. As temperatures increase the winter frost and freeze cycle that we have unconsciously relied upon to kill off things like mosquito larvae, fungi, viruses and bacteria will be truncated or vanish altogether.Populations of some organisms that were once severely depopulated, like fungi, will be with us year-round. As plants bloom earlier and the continuous bloomers have a longer season in which to grow, their associated pollen will be with us for a longer period of time. As temperatures rise habitat will be created that is conducive for the population and breeding of organisms that have never been able to survive this far north.
Human parasites that we have never even heard of could start to gain a foothold along the Gulf Coast. The life cycle of some parasites requires an intermediate host, usually in the form of an invertebrate like a snail. Formerly, this intermediate host was not able to live in North America because it could not take the cold. As it warms up habitat to its liking will become available. Of course, the host has to get here by some means, which will probably be facilitated by international trade. Examples of this include Dutch elm disease, zebra mussels, grasscarp and fire ants to name a few.
We all know that when things warm up the spring and we are out in the open air for our first barbeque of the season there are always uninvited guests – mosquitoes. With the increase in temperature associated with global warming we will be seeing more of these party crashers and sooner than usual.Diseases carried by the mosquito include denque fever and malaria. Dengue fever has already infected people in McAllen, Texas. Which suffered an outbreak in 1995. Dengue, or “breakbone”, fever is a disease related to yellow fever.Most of us know about malaria and the worldwide suffering and death it causes. What some people may not know is that malaria was widespread in Florida and the Gulf Coast.In the last few years, malaria cases have occurred as far north as New Jersey, Michigan and New York. In 1997 an outbreak occurred in Florida, striking the Disney World theme park.These diseases, along with numerous human parasites, will be working their way north as global warming intensifies. As a biologist, I’m not a physician, I wonder if the local and regional health care systems and their associated providers will be able to diagnose these, here to for unknown tropical diseases, once they start appearing in our area?
Think Global – Act Local!