Mapping Climate Change Vulnerabilities to Infectious Diseases in Europe
Semenza, Jan C., Suk, Jonathan E., Estevez, Virginia, Ebi, Kristie L., Lindgren, Elisabet, Environmental Health Perspectives
Background: The incidence, outbreak frequency, and distribution of many infectious diseases are generally expected to change as a consequence of climate change, yet there is limited regional information available to guide decision making.
OBJECTIVE: We surveyed government officials designated as Competent Bodies for Scientific Advice concerning infectious diseases to examine the degree to which they are concerned about potential effects of climate change on infectious diseases, as well as their perceptions of institutional capacities in their respective countries.
Methods: In 2007 and 2009/2010, national infectious disease experts from 30 European Economic Area countries were surveyed about recent and projected infectious disease patterns in relation to climate Change in their countries and the national capacity to cope with them.
Results: A large majority of respondents agreed that climate change would affect vector-borne (86% of country representatives), food-borne (70%), water-borne (68%), and rodent-borne (68%) Diseases in their countries. In addition, most indicated that institutional improvements are needed for ongoing surveillance programs (83%), collaboration with the veterinary sector (69%), management of animal disease outbreaks (66%), national monitoring and control of climate-sensitive infectious diseases (64%), health services during an infectious disease outbreak (61%), and diagnostic support during an epidemic (54%).
Conclusions: Expert responses were generally consistent with the peer-reviewed literature regarding the relationship between climate change and vector- and water-borne diseases, but were less so for food-borne diseases. Shortcomings in institutional capacity to manage climate change vulnerability, identified in this assessment, should be addressed in impact, vulnerability, and adaptation assessments.
KEY WORDS: adaptation, climate change, infectious diseases, surveillance, vulnerability. Environ Health Perspect 120:385-392 (2012). http://dx.doi.org/10.1289/ehp.1103805 [Online 23 November 2011]
Europe will experience differential impacts from climate change (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change 2007). Differences in geographic, ecological, demographic, and socioeconomic conditions affect the region's differences in vulnerability to changing environmental and climatic conditions. Projections of annual average temperature and mean precipitation predict significant changes overall, with disproportionally warmer winters in the north and warmer summers in the south (Giorgi et al. 2004). Ambient temperature and precipitation patterns influence food- and water-borne diseases through effects on environmental exposure pathways (Semenza et al. 201 la, 2011b). In addition, changes in seasonal precipitation and temperature influence vector-borne diseases through a) effects on vector survival, reproduction rates, habitat suitability, distribution, and abundance; b) the intensity and temporal pattern of vector activity (particularly biting rates); and c) rates of pathogen development, survival, and reproduction within vectors (Semenza and Menne 2009). Thus, projected climate changes may shift the distributional ranges of vector-borne diseases.
There are, however, significant uncertainties in climate change projections, particularly with regard to changes in weather patterns over time and consequences on smaller-scale biogeographic regions. Moreover, complex transmission pathways interact with climatic and environmental factors and are thus often insufficiently understood (McMichael et al. 2006; Patz et al. 2005). It is unlikely that the effect of climate change on a specific pathogen will be idiosyncratic; rather, a multitude of effects are likely to occur because pathogen dispersion, transport, fate, and environmental exposure pathways can all be altered by local climate and weather conditions (Boxall et al. 2009). Although infectious disease outbreaks have been linked to individual weather events, there have been few attempts to detect and attribute temporal trends in infectious diseases to climate change (Semenza et al. …