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Climate change called public health threat


By Steven Ross Johnson
Posted: May 10, 2014 - 12:01 am ET
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Climate change will exacerbate many chronic health conditions in the U.S., disproportionately affecting low-income Americans, according to the latest federal National Climate Assessment.

Experts say those effects can already be seen. “You have effects right now on the most vulnerable populations—children, elderly and then those that have chronic diseases such as those with COPD,” said Dr. Patricia Finn, chairwoman of the department of medicine at the University of Illinois College of Medicine at Chicago and president of the American Thoracic Society.

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Healthcare costs associated with climate change

(Occurring between 2002-09)

Heat waves: $5.3 billion

Hurricanes: $1.4 billion

Wildfires: $578 million

Mosquito-borne infectious disease: $207 million

River floods: $20 million

Source: Natural Resources Defense Council
The new assessment will make the public conversation about climate change more personal and less abstract, said Sabrina McCormick, an associate professor of environmental and occupational health at George Washington University's Milken Institute School of Public Health. “The way that we as a nation assess the impact of any environmental stressor is through health,” she said.

The report projects that rising temperatures, coupled with the emission of carbon dioxide, will create an increasing amount of ground-level ozone, which will lead to more hospital admissions for lung-related conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and asthma, at an estimated health cost of $6.5 billion.

The report also said environmental changes could lead to infectious disease outbreaks not previously seen in the U.S.

“It's hard to train (healthcare providers) to recognize diseases they've never seen before,” McCormick said.

Climate change-related health effects also are likely to increase overall U.S. healthcare costs. A 2011 study in Health Affairs calculated health costs associated with six types of extreme weather and disease events between 2002 through 2009 accounted for more than 760,000 encounters with the healthcare system at a cost totaling more than $14 billion.

Follow Steven Ross Johnson on Twitter: @MHsjohnson


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