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Why climate change could damage your health as well as the planet (and how you can protect yourself)

Why climate change could damage your health as well as the planet (and how you can protect yourself)

Sep 3, 2022

In recent years the impact of man-made climate change has risen up the political agenda. Governments have signed global agreements in an attempt to limit the rise in temperature while at a household level there are lots of steps you can take, from recycling to eating less meat.

The key aim of tackling climate change is to avoid rising temperatures, which can have a significant effect on global weather conditions. Without action, wildlife and their habitats will be destroyed, leading to mass species extinction.

Storms, floods, drought, and heat waves would become increasingly common and more extreme, leading to major health crises and illness. And, agricultural production would plummet, likely leading to global food shortages and famine.

As well as the ecological issues of climate change, new research has also revealed the effect that it could have on our health. Read on to find out more, and for three ways you can ensure you can protect yourself and your family.

Climate change can make more than half of human diseases worse

New analysis by Down to Earth has revealed the impact climate change could have on human health.

They found that climate change can exacerbate more than half (58%) of the infectious diseases that humans come in contact with worldwide, from common waterborne viruses to deadly diseases like plague.

A team of scientists reviewed decades of scientific papers on all known disease pathogens to create a map of the human risks aggravated by climate-related hazards.

The analysis found that, of 375 human diseases, 218 of them can be affected by climate change.

For example:

  • Rising temperatures can extend the life of mosquitoes carrying malaria
  • Flooding can spread hepatitis
  • Droughts can bring rodents infected with hantavirus into communities as they search for food.

With climate change influencing more than 1,000 transmission pathways such as those above, scientists concluded that reducing the greenhouse gas emissions that are driving climate change is the only way to stop these risks.

4 ways climate hazards interact with pathogens and humans

The research found four main ways climatic hazards interact with pathogens and humans.

Climate-related hazards bring pathogens closer to people

In some cases, climate-related hazards are shifting the ranges of animals and organisms that can act as vectors for dangerous pathogenic diseases. In simple terms, this means that changing climate conditions can affect how diseases are spread.

For example, global warming or changes in rain patterns can alter the distribution of mosquitoes, which are vectors of lots of human pathogenic diseases. In recent decades, geographic changes in outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue have been linked to these climatic hazards.

Climate-related hazards bring people closer to pathogens

Climate events also change the way humans behave, and this can increase their chances of being exposed to disease.

For example, during heat waves people often spend more time in water. This can lead to an increase in waterborne disease outbreaks – just as how Vibrio-associated infections increased substantially in Sweden and Finland following a heat wave in northern Scandinavia in 2014.

Climate-related hazards enhance pathogens

Climate-related hazards can also create environmental conditions that can increase opportunities for pathogens to interact with vectors, or increase the ability of pathogens to cause severe illness in humans.

For example, standing water left by heavy rainfall and flooding can provide breeding grounds for mosquitoes. This can lead to increased transmission of diseases such as yellow fever, dengue, and malaria.

Studies have shown that rising temperatures may also help viruses become more resistant to heat. This worrying finding means that diseases could become more severe as pathogens become better able to adapt to fever in the human body.

As an example, studies have suggested that rising global temperatures are leading to increased heat tolerance of fungal pathogens. Fungi in urban environments have been shown to be more heat tolerant than those in rural areas, which tend to be cooler.

And, the sudden appearance on multiple continents of treatment-resistant human infections of Candida auris, a fungus that was previously non-pathogenic to humans, has been associated with increasing global temperatures.

Climate-related hazards weaken the body’s ability to cope with pathogens

Extreme weather events caused by climate change can also affect the human body’s ability to cope with pathogens in two principal ways:

  • They can force people into hazardous conditions. For example, when disaster damage leads to people living in crowded conditions that might lack good sanitation or increase their exposure to pathogens.
  • They can reduce the body’s capacity to fight off pathogens – for example, through malnutrition.

Living through extreme climate events such as floods, heatwaves, or drought may also induce increased cortisol production from stress, leading to a reduction in the human body’s immune response, making it more difficult for the body to fight disease.

3 ways to protect you and your family 

As you have seen from recent heatwaves and flooding, extreme weather events are becoming more commonplace. And, unless the rise in global temperatures is limited, these hazards are only likely to get worse – bringing with it the increased chance of illness.

Becoming ill can result in significant financial issues. You may have to take an extended period off work, which could result in a considerable fall in your income. For example, Statutory Sick Pay in the UK in 2022/23 is just £99.35 a week and is only available for 28 weeks.

In addition, you might also face additional expenses if you are ill. For example, cancer charity Macmillan say that, on average, four out of five people are £570 a month worse off because of their cancer diagnosis. This is due to:

  • Giving up work while having treatment
  • A reduced income
  • Increased household costs
  • Higher transport bills – for example, to travel to and from hospital for treatment.

Macmillan also found that 400,000 people in the UK with cancer struggled to pay their household bills.

The situation could be even worse for your family if you were to pass away. Would your loved ones be able to maintain the mortgage or rent payments, or meet essential bills such as utilities and food?

Putting the right protection in place gives you the peace of mind that you or your family will receive financial support right when they need it. This might be through:

  • Life insurance – your loved ones will receive a lump sum on your death that they can use to pay off your mortgage, replace your income, and maintain their standard of living at a difficult time.
  • Critical Illness cover – pays a tax-free lump sum to you if you’re diagnosed with a serious condition such as cancer or multiple sclerosis, or you have a heart attack or stroke.
  • Income protection – pays a portion of your income every month if you can’t work due to illness or accident, enabling you to meet your regular expenses.

With illnesses set to become more prevalent as man-made climate change continues to have an effect on the planet, it can make sense to get the peace of mind that you’re protected if the worst happens.

As protection experts, we can help you to find the most appropriate cover for you. We work with dozens of the UK’s leading insurers and can ensure you benefit from the right protection at the right price.

To find out more, get an online life insurance quote now, or speak to one of our experts for help.

 

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