Climate Change Threatens Public Health: Study Reveals Lack of Modeling Tools

Two Asian boys hold on their shoulders a rod with two pails on each end. They walk across large dry cracked land.

As climatic conditions and population growth set the stage for more frequent infectious disease outbreaks around the globe, a new study sheds light on the limited availability of software tools that can accurately forecast their risks. The study, led by UF medical geographers Sadie Ryan and Cat Lippi, was published today in The Lancet Planetary Health. It highlights the urgent need for more diverse and accessible software tools to predict and manage risks associated with climate-sensitive infectious diseases.

The study revealed that only 37 fully developed software tools exist that can accurately predict the risks of climate-sensitive infectious diseases (CSIDs) based on climate and epidemiological data. There’s also a flagrant disparity among the tools: The majority (81%) focus on “vector-borne” diseases that are transmitted to humans by organisms like mosquitos, such as malaria and dengue fever. Since new patterns of precipitation and rising temperatures influence the survival and reproduction rates of disease-carrying mosquitos and ticks, preventing and controlling vector-borne CSIDs remains crucial.

However, a slew of other environmental conditions linked to climate act as increasing threats to public health. Severe droughts and floods are on the rise, affecting patterns in foodborne or waterborne infectious diseases. Changes in climate and air quality can cause an increase in respiratory diseases, such as influenza. And from below, pathogens in the soil threaten agriculture. Ryan and her team found a shortage of tools available to address diseases spread from the water, air, and food — only 10% focus on these types of CSIDs. Alarmingly, no tools for modeling soilborne diseases currently exist.

This article was originally written by Lauren Barnett for UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences. To read the full article, visit the CLAS website.