Monday, February 11, 2008

Malaria warning as UK becomes warmer

As the climate warms, malaria moves north. The Telegraph (UK) dwells on this and other health impacts from climate instability: The UK is to be hit by regular malaria outbreaks, fatal heatwaves and contaminated drinking water within five years because of global warming, the Government has warned the NHS.

Following a major consultation with climate change scientists, the Government is issuing official advice to hospitals, care homes and institutions for dealing with rising temperatures, increased flooding, gales and other major weather events. It warns that there is a high likelihood of a major heatwave, leading to as many as 10,000 deaths, hitting the UK by 2012. All institutions have been told they must come up with a comprehensive plan on how to deal with the issues resulting from climate change.

Hospitals are also warned to prepare for outbreaks of malaria and tick-born viruses, as well as increased levels of skin cancer and deaths from asthma and other breathing conditions. A spokesman for the Health Protection Agency said: "Our work is based on what is likely to happen if we do nothing to prevent it - and it could well be that we see an increase in diseases such as malaria.

"Malaria has been seen in these islands in the past, and it is not impossible that it will return regularly if the UK experiences more tropical temperatures and rain on the scale experienced last summer. "Our nearest continental neighbour, France, has already experienced a severe heatwave, with thousands of people dying, mostly the old and frail, so it was very clearly seen by scientists as possible here within a short timeframe."

The Daily Telegraph has obtained a draft of the report, "Health Effects of Climate Change in the UK", compiled by Prof Bob Maynard of the Health Protection Agency, which will be officially launched by Dawn Primarolo, the Public Health Minister, on Tuesday.

Based on scientific advice that UK temperatures are expected to rise by up to three per cent by the end of the century, it includes the warning of a "high" risk by 2012 of a severe heatwave leading to 3,000 immediate deaths, followed by a further 6,350 fatalities from conditions such as heart failure and skin cancer.

Hospital admissions due to breathing problems caused by rising pollution are also likely to rise "significantly", by at least 1,500 a year. While the authors say the UK has proved able to cope with major heatwaves in the past, with no serious increase in fatalities in years with hot summers, such as 1976, temperatures on the scale of those experienced in France in 2003, which resulted in 14,000 premature deaths, would have an impact.

...The report says outbreaks of malaria in the UK are possible, although likely to remain "rare". However, across Europe malaria may become common, meaning hospitals should prepare to treat holidaymakers returning from continental weekend breaks, in addition to those who have travelled from more exotic destinations. Flooding is likely to have an impact on the safety of drinking water, with increased bacteria and algal blooms in reservoirs.

Mosquito photo from the CDC in the United States, Wikimedia Commons

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