Climate change and communicable diseases in the EU Member States

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control has released a new handbook authored by leading experts in climate change and communicable diseases tying together these two major challenges of our present day in a document helping municipal, national and supranational entities plan for changes in communicable disease patterns brought about by changes in our climate.  The executive summary of this handbook states:

Climate change has already had measurable effects on the varied climates of Europe. Further changes, such as overall warmer temperatures, increased rainfall in Northern Europe, increased water scarcity in Southern Europe and even more extreme weather events, such as flooding and acute precipitation events across much of Northern and Central Europe, are anticipated. The transmission patterns of communicable diseases are influenced by many factors, including climatic and ecological elements. It is widely anticipated that climate change will impact the spread of communicable diseases in Europe. In some instances these impacts will be favourable, but in many cases they will pose new threats to public health. Food- and waterborne disease incidence, for example, have been correlated to warmer temperatures. Disease vectors (e.g., mosquitoes, sandflies and ticks) are highly sensitive to climatic conditions, including temperature and humidity. The distribution of these vectors is expected to shift in Europe, particularly at their latitudinal and altitudinal limits, meaning that certain vector-borne diseases may be introduced to regions that have not previously encountered them.

This handbook is intended to be a resource to encourage planning activities that anticipate and address the possible impact of climate change on communicable disease spread. Informed by current climate change science, particularly as it relates to communicable disease spread, this handbook suggests various processes and important points for consideration when conducting vulnerability assessments and developing adaptation strategies for climate change. Numerous appendices point to additional information sources that can facilitate this process.

Many countries have already developed climate change vulnerability assessments and/or adaptation strategies. This handbook is based on best practices and experiences from not only in Europe, but also from assessments undertaken in Australia, Canada, New Zealand and the USA. Although the content and context of vulnerability and adaptation assessments will necessarily vary from country to country and region to region, the process is fundamentally similar. This handbook stresses a methodology that involves as many different stakeholders as is feasible, is iterative in nature, and is carefully managed throughout all phases. Identifying potential vulnerabilities first requires describing the current situation, including demographic and socio-economic factors, health systems, epidemiologic factors, and information from non-health sectors. With careful analysis, priority diseases and vulnerable groups can be identified. These findings can then inform public health adaptation programs that strategically leverage existing strengths and mitigate the future weaknesses of health systems.

Read the full handbook here in PDF format.

Citation: Elisabet Lindgren, Kristie L. Ebi, Mikael Johannesson.  Climate change and communicable diseases in the EU Member States, European Centre for Disease Control, 2010, ISBN: 978-92-9193-206-1, DOI: 10.2900/27967

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