The effect of climate change on skin disease in North America

J Am Acad Dermatol. 2017 Jan;76(1):140-147. doi: 10.1016/j.jaad.2016.08.014. Epub 2016 Oct 11.


Global temperatures continue to rise, reaching new records almost every year this decade. Although the causes are debated, climate change is a reality. Consequences of climate change include melting of the arctic ice cap, rising of sea levels, changes in precipitation patterns, and increased severe weather events. This article updates dermatologists about the effects of climate change on the epidemiology and geographic ranges of selected skin diseases in North America. Although globalization, travel, and trade are also important to changing disease and vector patterns, climate change creates favorable habitats and expanded access to immunologically naïve hosts. Endemic North American illnesses such as Lyme disease, leishmaniasis, and dimorphic fungal infections have recently expanded the geographic areas of risk. As temperatures increase, epidemic viral diseases such as hand-foot-and-mouth disease may develop transmission seasons that are longer and more intense. Chikungunya and dengue are now reported within the southern United States, with Zika on the horizon. Cutaneous injuries from aquatic and marine organisms that have expanding habitats and longer durations of peak activity include jellyfish envenomation, cercarial dermatitis, and seabather eruption, among others. Skin cancer rates may also be affected indirectly by changes in temperature and associated behaviors.

Keywords: Lyme disease; Zika; cercarial dermatitis; chikungunya; climate change; coccidioidomycosis; dengue; environmental change; global warming; hand-foot-and-mouth syndrome; herpangina; jellyfish; leishmaniasis; seabather eruption; skin cancer; skin disease; swimmer itch.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Bites and Stings / epidemiology*
  • Chikungunya Fever / epidemiology
  • Climate Change*
  • Cnidaria*
  • Coccidioidomycosis / epidemiology
  • Dengue / epidemiology
  • Disease Vectors
  • Endemic Diseases*
  • Hand, Foot and Mouth Disease / epidemiology
  • Humans
  • Leishmaniasis / epidemiology
  • Lyme Disease / epidemiology
  • North America / epidemiology
  • Skin Diseases / epidemiology*
  • Skin Diseases / microbiology
  • Skin Diseases / parasitology
  • Skin Neoplasms / epidemiology
  • Zika Virus Infection / epidemiology