Disease risk and climate change: what you need to know

11.09.15 By
This article is more than 8 years old

The health risks associated with climate change in Australia are becoming clearer. A recent report from the Australian Academy of Science paints a picture of the serious health risks for Australians. Particularly vulnerable to these changes are children, the elderly and disadvantaged groups.

Here’s a snapshot from the report on how climate change could alter the spread of diseases in Australia.

1. Mosquito-borne diseases like dengue fever are likely to spread to new areas where they aren’t currently found.

Mosquito breeding is likely to change as the ecosystem changes and this will increase Australia’s susceptibility to outbreaks of “vector-borne diseases”, which are diseases transmitted by mosquitoes, ticks and fleas. On top of this the area where these diseases occur is predicted expand, putting more people in different areas risk.

2. Expect more instances of Salmonella and other food-borne diseases

Doctors warn that rising temperatures, changes to water supply and extreme weather events are all likely to increase the incidence of food-borne diseases like Salmonella.

3. As temperatures rise, so to will instances of water-borne diseases like Giardia and Cholera.

Changes to water availability and higher temperatures will likely increase the prevalence of water-borne diseases, while replication rates of bacteria will increase as temperatures rise, reaching higher densities and posing greater risk to more people.

4. Respiratory diseases like influenza and whooping cough will become bigger health problems.

As temperatures rise more people will spend time indoors to avoid the extreme heat, increasing the risk they will pass on respiratory diseases. This problem will be exacerbated by changes in seasons, extension of peak transmission periods, and rises in human population density due to population growth.


5. The risk of diseases that are transmitted between humans and animals will increase

Diseases that spread between animals and humans are called Zoonotic diseases, and include big ones like Swine Flu, Bird flu, and in Australia diseases like the Hendra virus that spreads through contact with horses. Climate change will alter the density and movement of both wild animals and livestock in Australia and affect human–animal contact patterns. This could promote transmission of existing zoonotic disease or increase the risk of novel diseases emerging.

All images via Creative Commons.