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Health & Science

Climate Change Will Boost Diseases Like Asthma, Allergies, Dengue, Diarrhea

Climate change usually brings to mind rising sea levels and large-scale disasters like hurricanes, floods and droughts. But the public health impacts will be widespread and sometimes subtle, according to the CDC’s Climate and Health Program.


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Some of the expected health problems in a warming world are obvious, like more people dying in heat waves or drowning in floods.

But some of the fallout will happen invisibly. For example, higher temperatures lead to the creation of more ozone, and that causes more asthma attacks. Wildfires are also expected to increase, and the smoke and particulate matter will have negative effects on air quality as well.

Floods are another example. They don’t just cause immediate drownings. They can also cause diarrhea, if water treatment and sewage systems are overwhelmed. Over time, buildings and homes can become infected with mold, which also exacerbates respiratory issues.

While some problems will be widespread in the U.S., others may have stronger effects regionally or locally, according to Shubhayu Saha, a scientist at the CDC’s Climate and Health program.

 “Climate’s going to change across the entire United States, but the change is going to look very different in Maine as compared to Arizona,” Saha said.

For example, people in Arizona are used to coping with hot weather, so heat stroke may not be as big of an issue there.

But heat waves could be devastating in Maine, Saha said. And Maine is already reporting more cases of Lyme disease, as warmer weather allows deer ticks to move north.

“In places where Lyme wasn’t observed a few years ago, we see increasing incidences of Lyme,” he explained. “And we believe that some of this is due to changing patterns of temperature and precipitation, which produce suitable habitat for the vector that causes this, the tick.”

And then there’s hay fever. People with allergies are already experiencing higher pollen counts and a longer pollen season in the U.S. Saha explained that plants like ragweed thrive when there’s more carbon dioxide.

“So the total pollen production per plant increase, the amount of time the plant produces pollen increases,” he said.

Even poison ivy is expected to increase with rising levels of carbon dioxide.  

The CDC is now working with health departments in 16 states and 2 cities to help them predict the worst local impacts and make plans to adapt.

Texas is not one of the states in that program. But Saha says the threats facing Texas include the spread of mosquitos that carry infectious diseases like dengue and chikungunya. Texas is also vulnerable to hurricanes, drought and flooding.


The Health Impacts of Climate Change


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