Tuesday, December 6

Europe is already suffering the impact of climate change on health: deaths from heat and tropical infections are on the rise

European countries are being blown up in the face by the damage that the climate crisis is inflicting on people’s health. Europe “is waking up” to the increase in deaths attributed to heat, the spread of infectious diseases and pathologies due to breathing microparticles released by fossil fuels, according to reveals the study Lancet Countdown 2022.

The particles that travel in the gases that overheat the planet cause 20% of premature deaths worldwide

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The work explores the link between health and climate change through the collaboration of 44 researchers. “After spending the hottest summer, Europe is becoming aware of the reality of global warming and what it means for our health,” stresses the director of the European project and member of the Catalan Institution for Research and Advanced Studies and the National Center of Supercomputing, Rachel Lowe.

The continent is being forced to deal with impacts that were already visible. “Health is at the mercy of fossil fuels”, defines it The Lancet. During 2021 and 2022, “extreme weather events caused devastation on all continents”, but what has Europe done to make that awakening felt?

In fact, the scientists count down they have put the focus on a toll that had already become evident in many other regions of the planet.

Increasingly deadly heat waves

In the decade 2010-2019, the increasing extreme heat has made the exposure to heat waves, in general, 57% higher than the previous decade. There are more days with dangerous temperatures because of how high they are.

Logically, with more time in the heat wave, the deterioration in the health of citizens is greater. This 2022 has been especially palpable in Spain where, in the summer months, an excess mortality of 4,700 deaths attributable to heat was recorded. Triple the average of the last five years, according to data from the Carlos III Health Institute.

Climate change is seriously impacting health around the world, while the persistent global dependence on fossil fuels compounds these damages

Marina Romanello, executive director of the Lancet Countdown

In Europe, calculations for the July heat spike alone revealed excess heat-related deaths to be around 53,000 deaths. In 2021, which was already a summer of heat above normal in much of the continent, the excess mortality had been just over 5,700 people, especially in Greece or France.

Globally, The Lancet has calculated that deaths from heat in people over 65 – especially vulnerable to high temperatures – have “increased approximately 68% between the period 2000-2004 and the four-year period 2017-2021”.

In this sense, the study adds that more than half of the territory has had to face “either extreme or, at least, extraordinary droughts” between 2011 and 2020. More than a third of mainland Spain is currently experiencing a prolonged drought due to lack of rain

Better conditions for mosquitoes to spread

The scientists brought together by The Lancet They warn of the “increase in favorable climatic conditions for the spread of infectious diseases such as dengue, malaria or West Nile virus.”

These pathologies labeled as tropical can grow because the vectors that transmit them –basically insects– enjoy better circumstances to thrive. For example, the tiger mosquito, an alien species – originating from another area or country – has made the south of France and the Mediterranean countries more vulnerable to dengue since it settled and began to spread in 2000. In fact, the World Health Organization in Europe has been forceful in analyzing the situation: “Dengue is back”.

In France this month they are experiencing an outbreak of dengue described as “worrying”. In the country they have had indigenous cases since 2010, but they were quickly controlled and did not usually exceed 10. However, in 2022, a single nucleus has caused more than 30 infections. The usual surveillanceappears not to be sufficient for environmental conditions conducive to transmission”, they have analyzed at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.

In the case of malaria, despite the fact that Europe was declared “case-free” in 2016 by the WHO, the danger lies in the fact that the mosquito Anopheles that transmits it lives better and better on the continent. And every year, thousands of Europeans are hospitalized after contracting malaria on a trip (in 2019 there were two cases of internal contagion in Spain, as well as many others in Germany, Greece, France and another in the Netherlands).

In 2020, West Nile virus broke out in Spain. 77 cases and eight deaths were certified. It is transmitted by native mosquitoes, but the global rise in temperatures – also in winter – favors their populations. There are more mosquitoes capable of transmitting the virus if it appears on a person.

Breathing in particulates expelled from exhaust pipes

The Lancet Countdown calculates that, in 2020 alone, 117,000 people died from having breathed the microparticles released by the combustion of fossil fuels – which at the same time release greenhouse gases that cause climate change. “Transportation is the main source” of these very fine particles: PM 2.5. The work estimates that in the world the vital toll skyrocketed to 1.3 million deaths.

The damage that the particles that travel in the greenhouse gases are causing only accumulates evidence. A little over a year ago, a review of the universities of Harvard, Birmingham and London College, calculated that 20% of premature deaths worldwide were related to these PM 2.5 that expel, above all, the pipes of vehicle exhaust.

The regions most affected by this contaminant are the East Coast of the United States, Southeast Asia and Western Europe. “Our study reveals that we are at a critical moment,” says the executive director of the Countdown, Marina Romanello. “Climate change is seriously impacting health around the world, while the persistent global dependence on fossil fuels compounds these damages,” she concludes.