Global Warming and Its Health Impact

Int J Occup Environ Med. 2017 Jan;8(1):7-20. doi: 10.15171/ijoem.2017.963.


Since the mid-19th century, human activities have increased greenhouse gases such as carbon dioxide, methane, and nitrous oxide in the Earth's atmosphere that resulted in increased average temperature. The effects of rising temperature include soil degradation, loss of productivity of agricultural land, desertification, loss of biodiversity, degradation of ecosystems, reduced fresh-water resources, acidification of the oceans, and the disruption and depletion of stratospheric ozone. All these have an impact on human health, causing non-communicable diseases such as injuries during natural disasters, malnutrition during famine, and increased mortality during heat waves due to complications in chronically ill patients. Direct exposure to natural disasters has also an impact on mental health and, although too complex to be quantified, a link has even been established between climate and civil violence. Over time, climate change can reduce agricultural resources through reduced availability of water, alterations and shrinking arable land, increased pollution, accumulation of toxic substances in the food chain, and creation of habitats suitable to the transmission of human and animal pathogens. People living in low-income countries are particularly vulnerable. Climate change scenarios include a change in distribution of infectious diseases with warming and changes in outbreaks associated with weather extreme events. After floods, increased cases of leptospirosis, campylobacter infections and cryptosporidiosis are reported. Global warming affects water heating, rising the transmission of water-borne pathogens. Pathogens transmitted by vectors are particularly sensitive to climate change because they spend a good part of their life cycle in a cold-blooded host invertebrate whose temperature is similar to the environment. A warmer climate presents more favorable conditions for the survival and the completion of the life cycle of the vector, going as far as to speed it up as in the case of mosquitoes. Diseases transmitted by mosquitoes include some of the most widespread worldwide illnesses such as malaria and viral diseases. Tick-borne diseases have increased in the past years in cold regions, because rising temperatures accelerate the cycle of development, the production of eggs, and the density and distribution of the tick population. The areas of presence of ticks and diseases that they can transmit have increased, both in terms of geographical extension than in altitude. In the next years the engagement of the health sector would be working to develop prevention and adaptation programs in order to reduce the costs and burden of climate change.

Keywords: Climate change; Communicable diseases, emerging; Global warming; Infectious disease medicine; Temperature; Tick-borne diseases; Weather.

MeSH terms

  • Agriculture
  • Climate Change
  • Communicable Diseases / epidemiology
  • Communicable Diseases / etiology
  • Communicable Diseases / transmission
  • Disasters
  • Environmental Health*
  • Global Warming*
  • Humans
  • Public Health*