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Climate change is literally sickening, doctors say

As temperatures rise, so will rates of illness and disease in the United States. So say the 400,000 physicians who make up the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health.

On Wednesday, the newly formed consortium issued “Climate Change Is Harming Our Health,” a report compiled after surveying patients. The doctors felt “a need to share our growing understanding and concern about the health consequences of climate change with all Americans,” said the report, which focused on how several causes and results of climate change like higher temperatures, air pollution, and extreme weather are harming people’s health.

“Even our ‘best-case scenario’ means we’re going to be seeing more with demanding health problems,” one doctor said in the report. “But the worst-case scenarios of climate change really worry me. It would mean a level of human suffering we can barely contemplate, much less respond to.”

These are some key findings in the report:

  • Mosquito- and tick-borne diseases like West Nile virus are on the rise because hotter environments and fluctuating rainfalls are allowing mosquitoes, fleas, and ticks to increase in number and move into environments where they’d never been before. The president of the American College of Physicians said the doctors in his Rhode Island practice used to treat two or three cases a month of Lyme disease during tick season. Now they see 40 to 50.
  • Bacteria and toxins also thrive in heat and wet conditions, which means more crops will not only become contaminated, but die off altogether. Rising levels of carbon dioxide will also make the surviving crops less nutritious.
  • Our water supplies are also likely to become contaminated as heavy rainfall brings more chemicals and waste into increasingly warm water, creating a petri dish for salmonella and E. coli.
  • Mental health will suffer because extreme weather events often lead to stress as well as increases in suicidal thoughts and drug abuse.
  • While everybody is at risk, certain people — children, the elderly, pregnant women, the poor — will probably suffer more as climate change progresses.
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