Increased rainfall and higher temperatures may affect future disease outbreaks

Written by
Morgan Kelly
Morgan Kelly, High Meadows Environmental Institute
Dec. 16, 2019

One of the first studies to examine the effect of climate change on diseases such as influenza that are transmitted directly from person to person has found that higher temperatures and increased rainfall could make outbreaks less severe but more common, particularly in North America.

Princeton University-led research studied how climate conditions influence annual outbreaks of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) in the United States and Mexico, where the common pathogen can cause serious respiratory infections. In their models, projected increases in temperature-driven humidity generally resulted in less intense outbreaks of RSV.

However, that seemingly positive outcome is counterbalanced by the possibility of more persistent occurrences of the virus throughout the year. Infections would be temporally spread out rather than concentrated in certain seasons, leaving people more vulnerable to the virus over the long term.

Most research related to climate change and infectious disease to date has focused on maladies that are spread by vectors such as mosquitoes. This study expands into new territory by investigating a disease that passes through direct contact, and can serve as a model for projecting how climate change could affect similar pathogens.

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