MEXICO CITY – The effects of climate change could facilitate the transmission of infectious diseases, especially respiratory ailments, due to changes caused in the immune system, Mexican infectiologist Arturo Martinez told EFE.
The rising average global temperature increasingly determines the behavior of atmospheric phenomena that cause “changes in the body’s physiology” and make “people who have chronic pulmonary trouble more susceptible to acquiring illnesses,” he said.
The coordinator of the Infectology and Microbiology Clinic of Mexico’s National Institute for Respiratory Diseases (INER) said that the most affected people are those suffering from asthma, pulmonary emphysema and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD).
The gases that cause the so-called “greenhouse effect” – mainly carbon dioxide – make people more susceptible to lung damage, increasing the reactivity of the organ and finally facilitating infections such as the flu.
“Climate change makes a susceptible host even more susceptible to infections,” Martinez said.
Heavy rains and excessive heat, as well as hurricanes or sharp weather changes – all of which can be occasioned by global warming – “make the transmission of certain illnesses – viruses, bacteria, parasites – easier.”
Even healthy people also find that their immune systems can be affected because “the conditions that surround them are changing.”
When the environment changes, people change their habits and lifestyles. For example, in places where rainfall was scarce there are now torrential rains and extreme temperatures, leading to people “spending more time indoors or in closed places, being (in closer contact) with more people (some of them ill), not eating properly or even becoming depressed.”
These conditions “affect the functioning of our immune system,” Martinez said.
In addition, diseases can often be “transmitted by vectors” such as mosquitoes – including dengue, Zika and Chikungunya – which also change their locations due to changes in humidity and temperature.
“Climate change in tropical and subtropical regions also changes the flora and fauns (there),” he said.
The viruses that are increasing fastest due to climate change, according to INER studies, are influenza and the rhinovirus, which cause pneumonia and bronchitis, among other maladies.
Among the bacteria, pneumococcus, Klebsiella and other organisms that do not cause pulmonary damage but do affect humans in other ways are also on the rise due to climate change.