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NIH to examine how climate change may affect public health

By Dale Kiefer - 07 Oct 2011 13:18:4 GMT
NIH to examine how climate change may affect public health

Image: Climate change and health via Shutterstock

The U.S. National Institutes of Health has launched a research program that will examine the potential effects of climate change on health. Climate change is expected to affect local weather patterns, while also having an impact on people's exposure to heat, toxins, air pollution and infectious diseases.

While the study will consider a broad range of possible climate change-related scenarios, it will focus specifically on the direct and indirect human health risks in both the United States, and abroad.

Among other effects, climate change is expected to alter various populations' relative risks of developing infectious diseases.

"Governments and policy makers need to know what the health effects from climate change are and who is most at risk," said John Balbus, M.D., NIH's National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) senior advisor for public health and lead for NIEHS' efforts on climate change.

"The research from this program will help guide public health interventions, to ultimately prevent harm to the most vulnerable people."

Examples of potential climate related illnesses include asthma and other respiratory illnesses, gastrointestinal diseases, heat exhaustion and heat stroke, and deaths related to extreme weather, such as hurricanes, tornadoes and floods.

Caroline Dilworth, Ph.D., health scientist administrator in the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training, oversees the grants that are funding the research. She anticipates funding additional projects, as well.

"This research will clarify how changes in climate and our environment affect not just heat stress, but also common diseases, such as asthma, cardiovascular disease, and stroke," she said.

Presently, investigators from a wide array of institutions, including Johns Hopkins University, in Baltimore, Maryland, Harvard University, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and Emory University, in Atlanta, Georgia, are on board.

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