Water borne diseases, climate change & planes, trains & automobiles

Last week I was finishing up the NIEH report section on zoonotic and vector borne diseases. On that same vein, I thought I would continue on the disease avenue of the report and go to climate change and waterborne diseases.


When I thought of waterborne diseases, I really was thinking globally rather than domestically as far as the main health threats. I thought of Haiti after the 2010 earthquake with the major outbreak of dysentery and diarrhea from fecal infected river water (1.)

It never occurred to me that this is a very real domestic issue as well.

Ocean and lakes naturally contain bacteria, fungi, protozoa and viruses, as well as some introduced from sewage runoff. Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA) has been found in our waterways. The great lakes, which is a water source for over 40 billion people, correlated with over half the outbreaks of water borne diseases, during increased precipitation levels from 1948-1994, according to the NIEH report (Nieh.) And that Legionnaires disease, Legionella, was transmitted through toxic water in air conditioning units (4.)

The majority of health effects used to be primarily gastrointestinal, like cholera and dysentery. However now waterborne diseases can affect the immune system, the blood, the skin, the neurological system, pulmonary symptom, ocular and renal systems and respiratory systems (4.)

In the US there is spotty surveillance and not uniform diagnoses even during normal climate, so it may be difficult to spot and diagnose these diseases in the future (4.)

According to a New England Journal of Medicine report, waterborne diseases are greatly affected by climatic changes. Malaria transmission requires enough water and heat for the mosquitoes to lay their eggs, so increased heat and precipitation can increase malaria outbreaks. In contrast, West Nile Virus thrives in drought areas (3.) In fact, a man in my office got sick one day last fall, ended up the hospital, then in a coma within 2 days. After days of testing, they finally found out that he had West Nile Virus. It took him months of rehabilitation to get better.


Waterborne disease outbreaks are expected to climb globally and domestically with the changing climate, including increase of sea and land temperatures, increased precipitation, flooding, sea level rise, degradation of wastewater plants. (4.)

This talk of water made me think of water use. I found a pretty cool test to see your water footprint (2.) Just like carbon, the full price of our water usage is not part of the real price of most everything we buy.

th-6I am attending a conference this weekend in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Which leads me to the Tip of the week:

Planes, Trains or Automobiles?


I had 324 miles to go and had no idea which method of travel had the smallest carbon footprint. I figured flying would have the most but wondered about trains and cars.

Turns out, there is not a simple answer! Car travel can be as good as a train if the car gets good gas mileage, above 34 mpg, and you have all the seats full. (5.) Well, it was just me, so I took the train. And may I say that it was the most relaxing and enjoyable form of transportation? I only wish we could get more places in the US that way. I was lucky that I happen to be going where the train went. So, check this site out yourself next time you are wondering the best travel option.




4. http://niehs.nih.gov/climatereport