“We expect more outbreaks of small infectious diseases that we still consider tropical,” says Professor Martin Grobosch, Head of the Center for Tropical and Travel Medicine at the Medical University of Amsterdam.
He quickly adds: “New tropical diseases may seem exciting, and they are certainly expected, but this will not be our most pressing problem when we talk about climate change.”
West Nile virus and malaria
“We already have cases of West Nile virus in our country, and we will also see dengue and other mosquito-borne diseases in the future,” Grubusch said. “Even malaria seems possible. Maybe not on a large scale, but as a local outbreak.”
Professor Marion Koopmans, Head of the Department of Virology at Erasmus MC, agrees: “We are already seeing small outbreaks, but making direct links with climate change is not easy.”
The risk of vector-borne diseases (diseases that can be transmitted by mosquitoes or ticks, for example) is increasing, Koopmans says. “As you can see, the combination of rising temperature and humidity is important for this infection. Warming will make life easier for those vectors, the mosquitoes. Drier summers are not suitable for mosquitoes, so it is not easy to predict.”
Mosquitoes can transmit various diseases. These diseases include West Nile virus, dengue fever, yellow fever, Zika and malaria.
But according to Koopmans, it’s not just mosquito-borne diseases that pose a risk. It also points to the risks of natural phenomena such as floods, which may become more common due to climate change.
“A large class of infectious diseases can be transmitted through water and food,” says Koopmans. “If sewers overflow due to extreme weather, this will affect the environment.” “You’re also more susceptible to food infections, for example.”
So the risk of these types of diseases is increasing, but here large outbreaks of, for example, dengue or West Nile virus can be prevented, says Grubusch. It is important that general practitioners begin to recognize the symptoms of infectious diseases – which are still strange – more quickly. Or better to say: start getting acquainted again, Grubusch points out.
Grubusch: “Two or three generations ago, every general practitioner in Friesland knew about malaria. The last local case dates back to 1958. Only 50 years ago, the World Health Organization no longer considered the Netherlands to be a malaria endemic area.”
Rising sea levels
Koopmans is conducting research with the Center for Epidemiology and Disasters into what changes we can expect to the landscape as a result of climate change. “As the water table drops and sea levels rise, you see a broader swath of land becoming increasingly salty,” she says.
“In addition, there are plans to create more water buffer zones and wetlands to prevent flooding. This will happen more often as global warming increases. These are the conditions in which malaria mosquitoes thrive, for example.”
However, Grobosch says, we should not blindly focus on the arrival of tropical diseases in the Netherlands. “This is not the biggest problem yet, and it will not be our biggest problem in the Netherlands in terms of climate change. We should not worry about an increase in infectious infectious diseases. But we have every reason,” says the professor. “To stay awake and think about how to combat climate change.”
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