Climate change: Dengue fever case is a warning about the 'biggest global health threat of the 21st century' – Scotsman comment

In 2009, a team of leading scientists warned that climate change would be the “biggest global health threat of the 21st century”.

Writing in the leading medical journal The Lancet, they said that the various effects of rising temperatures, such as changing patterns of disease, water and food insecurity, and extreme weather events, would “put the lives and well-being of billions of people at increased risk”. One threat they highlighted was that dengue fever, malaria and tick-borne encephalitis would become increasingly widespread and affect populations with “little or no immunity”.

So it should not be a surprise that France has been experiencing a serious outbreak of dengue fever, which resulted in a 44-year-old British woman, who had been on holiday in the south of the country, having to go to hospital on her return to the UK. In a report about the case, Dr Owain Donnelly, of London's Hospital for Tropical Diseases, said: “With climate change, particularly hotter temperatures and more rainfall, and increasing global trade and tourism, we may see more parts of Europe with the right combination of factors for dengue outbreaks.”

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Dengue fever, which usually causes mild flu-like symptoms, but can be fatal, is spread by mosquitos previously only found in the tropics. However, warmer conditions have enabled the Asian tiger mosquito to move into southern Europe, bringing the disease with them. And, as Dr Oliver Brady, of the Dengue Mapping and Modelling Group, pointed out in October last year, this mosquito has been detected at UK ports “multiple times over the past few years” although “no local populations have established in the UK yet”.

Amid much talk about wildfires, droughts, floods, increasingly powerful storms, rising sea levels and the potential collapse of global ocean currents, the slow but steady spread of potentially deadly diseases can go relatively unnoticed. But it represents yet another reason to take climate change more seriously.

This may all sound incredibly gloomy. However, the burgeoning new industrial revolution offers considerable opportunities to those wise enough to be at its forefront, and switching from fossil fuels to electricity will also dramatically reduce air pollution, making cities, in particular, healthier and more pleasant places to live. We know what we need to do, what we must do, and how. It’s now just a question of getting on with it.



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