Monday, April 4, 2011

Confronting health issues of climate change

An editorial in the American Medical News: If physicians want evidence of climate change, they may well find it in their own offices. Patients are presenting with illnesses that once happened only in warmer areas. Chronic conditions are becoming aggravated by more frequent and extended heat waves. Allergy and asthma seasons are getting longer. Spates of injuries are resulting from more intense ice storms and snowstorms.

…In recent months, the AMA has hosted three state-based CME courses on climate change, most recently in Florida in late February. A fourth is planned later for Illinois. Around the time of the Florida session, the AMA joined with the American Public Health Assn. in a conference call to reporters to bring greater attention to climate change. Florida is an apt setting, because it is particularly sensitive to climate change. Rising air and water temperatures and rising ocean levels since the late 1960s have increased the severity of weather, including hurricanes and droughts, and the production of ground-level ozone.

That means more asthma and respiratory illnesses, more heat stroke and exhaustion, and exacerbation of chronic conditions such as heart disease. Florida's large elderly population makes it even more vulnerable to climate change. In the last two years, the Florida Keys have seen a tropical disease rarely apparent in residents of the United States -- dengue fever.

Maine, another state in which the AMA hosted climate-change CME, is seeing similar trends in terms of climate affecting chronic conditions, although instead of injuries from hurricanes, it's expected to have a rising rate of heart attacks and problems related to extreme snow, ice and cold. Climate change produces weather extremes on both ends of the temperature spectrum. In Maine, that's being seen in a marked increase of Lyme disease. It has risen tenfold in 10 years, particularly in the central and northern parts of the state, which had not seen the disease until recently….

An asthma inhaler

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