By: Rhia Singh ‘17
From Venezuela to Mexico and beyond, the Zika disease has widened its scope of infection at an alarming pace. The Zika disease is usually found in Sub Saharan Africa, North East South America, and the Pacific Islands, but climate change as well as increased globalization have expanded the regions that tropical diseases such as Zika can be found.
As more people travel to foreign countries and climate change alters the ecosystems of different regions, various diseases that are not common to these regions begin to appear.
Climate change is the alteration of regional climates due to the increase of atmospheric Carbon Dioxide. The burning of fossil fuels (i.e. coal and oil) release carbon dioxide, which is a greenhouse gas.
Greenhouse gasses are gases that absorb infrared radiation: a type of electromagnetic radiation that is invisible to the human eye but it is felt as heat. As more infrared radiation is absorbed by greenhouse gasses, the higher the temperature will be on Earth.
A warmer temperature leads to decreased agricultural yields, flooding, droughts, and the increased spread of diseases from one region to another. For example, according to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Northeast region of the United States is more likely to experience frequent heat waves along with a decrease of yield from agriculture and fisheries. Of course, the climate is always changing, but the problem is that the rise of greenhouse gases causes a drastic change in climate; a change that is not natural.
On January 4, 2016, the New York Times released an article, “U.S. Becomes More Vulnerable to Tropical Diseases Like Zika,” by Donald G. McNeil Jr. which discussed the increased possibility of the Zika, a tropical disease, spreading to the United States. According to this article, Zika has spread to Mexico and will continue to spread Northward. Shainu George ’17, a student of the Biological Sciences Major, stated, “Normally, one would link climate change to destruction of habitats but it’s shocking to know that it also impacts to disease spread.”
The Zika virus is a vector borne disease (a disease that results from the transmitted infection obtained from blood-feeding organisms such as mosquitoes), and the most common symptoms are fever, rash, joint pain, and red eyes. “The virus can cause birth defects if a pregnant woman is infected,” said Dr. Levine, an AP Biology and AP Psychology teacher at Brooklyn Tech. The illness is usually mild with symptoms lasting from several days to a week. Other tropical diseases that have been spotted in the United States are cysticercosis, echinococcus, toxocariasis, dengue, West Nile virus and Chagas.
Noadiah William ’17, a student in the Gateway to Medicine Major, stated, “It’s pretty scary knowing that climate change could cause disease to migrate, ” but as scary as this disease may seem, it is important to remember that unlike many other countries that have this disease, The United States has access to well-equipped medical facilities, and experienced doctors, so the chances of an epidemic are slim. However, this threat is just another warning from that climate change is real, and it’s time we started to respect the environment that we live in.