As the climate changes, healthcare definitely will feel its impact. The frequency of severe weather is expected to increase, and warmer temperatures will bring their own new threats. Learn more below.
An increase of warmer temperatures over time can result in extreme heat waves, longer droughts, creating the right conditions for forest fires, and more extreme floods. Meteorological records reveal an upsurge of catastrophic weather-related events since 1980 (Berlin et. al, 2019).
Healthcare is already being impacted by natural disasters occurring more often and with more extensive devastation than in the past. Think specifically about the long-lasting effects of recent hurricanes and how healthcare organizations learned the hard way that they must be even more prepared for the unexpected. Not only does extreme weather create a surge of injured patients filling hospitals or threaten to flood or destroy physical buildings, it can trigger power outages, unexpectedly crippling hospitals and transportation systems. And droughts can lead to chronic water shortages, harming both rural and metro areas (Berlin et. al, 2019). The effects on patients outlast the short-term disaster, as National Geographic suggests, “Trauma from floods, droughts, and heat waves can lead to mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and suicide” (Berlin et. al, 2019).
According to the National Ocean and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), 2017 was the costliest year on record for natural disasters in the United States, with 16 separate events totaling $306.2 billion (NOAA, 2019). These numbers alone should prompt healthcare organizations to reevaluate their emergency natural disaster plans and prepare for worse than they are expecting.
The 2016 USGCRP reports several key findings regarding climate and vector-borne diseases, illnesses transmitted by vectors (mosquitoes, ticks, and fleas). They suggest that warming temperatures have the potential to “alter the geographic and seasonal distributions of existing vectors and vector-borne diseases.”
Currently, the risk of human infection in the United States for diseases like Lyme disease and West Nile virus occur during a specific season each year. The 2016 USGCRP report suggests that increasing temperatures could expand the length of the seasonal activity and geographic range of ticks that carry the bacteria that causes Lyme disease.
Similarly, with vector-borne diseases caused by mosquitos, “Rising temperatures, changing precipitation patterns, and a higher frequency of some extreme weather events… will influence the distribution, abundance, and prevalence of infection in the mosquitoes that transmit West Nile virus and other pathogens by altering habitat availability and mosquito and viral reproduction rates” (USGCRP, 2016). With these changes in climate that increase risk of tick activity and the expansion and prevalence of mosquito-borne diseases, there is also an expectation among experts that new vector-borne pathogens could emerge.
In 2017, there were over 42,000 confirmed and probable cases of Lyme disease reported to the CDC, an increase of over 17% from 2016 (CDC, 2018). There has been an increase in prevalence over the last 20 years.
This blog post excerpts the HealthStream article, Is your Healthcare Organization preparing for Potential Health Risks Associated with Warmer Temperatures. It also includes:
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