Climate variability and change in the United States: potential impacts on vector- and rodent-borne diseases

Environ Health Perspect. 2001 May;109 Suppl 2(Suppl 2):223-33. doi: 10.1289/ehp.109-1240669.


Diseases such as plague, typhus, malaria, yellow fever, and dengue fever, transmitted between humans by blood-feeding arthropods, were once common in the United States. Many of these diseases are no longer present, mainly because of changes in land use, agricultural methods, residential patterns, human behavior, and vector control. However, diseases that may be transmitted to humans from wild birds or mammals (zoonoses) continue to circulate in nature in many parts of the country. Most vector-borne diseases exhibit a distinct seasonal pattern, which clearly suggests that they are weather sensitive. Rainfall, temperature, and other weather variables affect in many ways both the vectors and the pathogens they transmit. For example, high temperatures can increase or reduce survival rate, depending on the vector, its behavior, ecology, and many other factors. Thus, the probability of transmission may or may not be increased by higher temperatures. The tremendous growth in international travel increases the risk of importation of vector-borne diseases, some of which can be transmitted locally under suitable circumstances at the right time of the year. But demographic and sociologic factors also play a critical role in determining disease incidence, and it is unlikely that these diseases will cause major epidemics in the United States if the public health infrastructure is maintained and improved.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Climate*
  • Dengue / epidemiology
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Disease Vectors*
  • Encephalitis, Arbovirus / epidemiology
  • Greenhouse Effect
  • Hantavirus Infections / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Leptospirosis / epidemiology
  • Malaria / epidemiology
  • Plague / epidemiology
  • Tick-Borne Diseases / epidemiology
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Yellow Fever / epidemiology
  • Zoonoses / epidemiology*
  • Zoonoses / transmission