Tracking disease in a warming world

Understanding how infectious diseases respond to climate change would help public health officials and environmental managers predict and mitigate disease impacts.


Rick Ostfeld of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies was part of a research team that recently put forth a framework for modeling disease in a warming world.

"What we need to do is to create models that allow us to predict where diseases are going to move, how far and how quickly they are going to move as the climate warms. And if we can do so accurately, then we are able to jump in and mitigate before disaster strikes."

Such forecasting is well established in crop disease management and has been used to target areas at risk to malaria outbreaks.

Warming is already causing changes in diseases that affect wildlife. Some of the clearest examples are found in the Arctic, where temperatures are rising more rapidly than elsewhere, resulting in faster developing parasites. A lungworm that affects muskoxen, for instance, is now transmitted over a longer period each summer, with crippling impacts.

Coral reefs are also vulnerable. In places like the Caribbean, warmer water has stressed corals and facilitated infections by pathogenic fungi and bacteria. When corals succumb, the myriad of species that depend on them also decline.

Where human health is concerned, there is not only the direct risk from pathogens like dengue, malaria, and cholera, all of which are linked to warmer temperatures, but also indirect risks from threats to our agricultural systems.

Climate change has real impacts on human welfare.

Produced in collaboration with WAMC Northeast Public Radio, this podcast originally aired on October 29, 2013. To access a full archive of Earth Wise podcasts, visit: www.earthwiseradio.org.

Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies | Millbrook, New York 12545 | Tel (845) 677-5343

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