Year 4, Month 12, Day 17: I Don’t Feel So Well Myself

USA Today, on the new face of climate-change: disease.

SACRAMENTO — Software engineer Andres Chavez is used to doing things quickly, efficiently and correctly. So he knew something was seriously wrong when, on a business trip in 2009, he was so confused he could barely sign a stack of paperwork.

“I felt like I was living a quarter-second in the past,” he says of the onset of Valley Fever, a disease caused by a soil fungus. It took months for his doctor to finally suggest that might be the cause of Chavez’s episodes of “getting stupid,” as his wife calls it.

“He called and asked me if I spent any time down in the Central Valley, and I said of course I did, my family lives in Livingston, Calif.,” Chavez, 43, remembers.

The soil there and in much of the arid Southwest carries the Coccidioides fungus. In dry months, the dust scatters in the wind and can be breathed into the lungs, infecting humans, dogs and cats and other mammals. The incidence is rising dramatically in the Southwest, where reported cases increased tenfold from 1998 to 2011, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Weathering the Change logo

The series will look at different regions of the country.(Photo: USA TODAY)

Valley Fever is one of multiple diseases experts say are spreading in part because of climate change. They include a brain-eating amoeba showing up in northern lakes that were once too cold to harbor it and several illnesses carried by ticks whose range is increasing.

Sounds attractive, no? December 5:

The climate-change denialists in politics and media are subject to frequent interludes of confusion and disorientation, rather like those afflicted by Coccidioides. While it isn’t as foreign-sounding as, say, “West Nile virus”, the fact is that an increasing incidence of “Valley Fever” is yet another unanticipated consequence of the accelerating greenhouse effect: the expansion of disease vectors into new areas. As climate change becomes a fact of our daily lives, America’s doctors can expect to encounter hitherto exotic ailments more and more often.

Congressional Republicans are still, of course, obsessed with their attempts to repeal the Affordable Care Act. If these anti-science lawmakers took their jobs seriously, they’d realize that these spreading insects, viruses and bacteria are a far graver threat to our economy than a mild regulatory regime for health insurers. Apparently lobbyist cash has an even more debilitating impact on the brain than a dust-scattered soil fungus.

Warren Senders


Year 9, Month 9, Day 13: Sick Comedy

The Hindu (India) notes that climate change is going to bring us some issues with insects:

How will wind strength impact the migration and affect the flight range of mosquitoes? These and several other parameters are being studied at the micro-environmental level by scientists as part of a national project on climate change to forecast spectrum of vector-borne diseases.

With climate change influencing all aspects, including health and agriculture, CSIR through its network of institutions is seeking to develop sustainable mitigation strategies at local level. As part of this, a national project — Integrated Analysis for Impact, Mitigation and Sustainability — has been initiated to leverage multi-disciplinary expertise available at CSIR for developing suitable models by taking into account various geographical variations.

Pesky little buggers, aren’t they? September 6:

A common prognostication from those who are attentive to the geopolitical implications of climate change is that unimaginably large numbers of people are likely to become “climate refugees” in the coming decades. Indeed, as rising sea levels wipe out coastal lands, disappearing glaciers no longer provide sufficient water for agriculture in mountainous areas, and intensifying drought bakes the areas in between, it’s a fair bet that millions will lose their land and their hopes, if not their lives.

But humans are only the tip of the (rapidly melting) iceberg when it comes to climate-caused displacement. Countless plant, animal and insect species are going to be racing to new habitats; these lifeforms, just like human beings, will be struggling to survive on a transforming planet — but their interests aren’t always going to align easily with ours. The increased prevalence of insect-carried diseases like dengue fever is a case in point.

While diplomatic preparations will be necessary in a post-climate-change world to avoid resource wars and border conflicts, it is equally necessary to develop medical communications and infrastructure to cope with these smaller (but equally significant) “refugees.”

Warren Senders

Year 2, Month 6, Day 24: Nice Polite Republicans.

June 10 – NPR’s Morning Edition ran a story on an outbreak of Dengue Fever in Florida. Guess what they didn’t mention?

Sent June 10:

Your June 10th story on Dengue fever is a piece of medical reporting that manages to omit a single mention of one of the most important factors in the spread of tropical diseases in the United States. Global climate change is a hugely significant contributor to disease vectors — warmer temperatures make it easier for insect carriers to breed, while simultaneously stressing local and regional ecosystems that might otherwise be able to resist invasive species. The arrival of Dengue fever in Florida is just one example of this, and should be discussed alongside similar insect-borne conditions such as the destruction of countless acres of forest by the Pine Borer beetle. A failure to discuss climate change in this context is like discussing cholera without mentioning sanitation or plague without mentioning rats. Given that global climate change is arguably the most significant threat humanity has faced in many thousands of years, it behooves NPR to address the crisis both directly and by highlighting one of its consequences: Floridians getting sick with a disease that hadn’t been seen since the Hoover administration.

Warren Senders