Climate change can harm both health and health systems

The warming planet could worsen health for patients with chronic conditions, lead to new health harms, and wreak havoc with health systems, according to an expert from Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

Renee Salas—an emergency room doctor, a Yerby Fellow at the Harvard Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment (C-CHANGE), and co-director of the February 13, 2020 Climate Crisis and Clinical Practice Symposium—discussed how climate change is already impacting health, and how it might in the future, in a February 10 Q&A in the Harvard Gazette.

Patients with existing conditions like asthma or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) could see their symptoms worsen because of climate change, Salas said. Extreme heat could harm vulnerable people like the elderly, or cause heatstroke in otherwise healthy people. And Salas thinks that new climate change-related health issues could crop up over time.

“Recent papers show that rising temperature is associated with bacterial resistance to antibiotics and a higher incidence of congenital heart defects,” she said. “As a doctor, that gets me thinking about what other impacts might be.” She also expressed concern about potential impacts on health care systems, such as power outages or supply chain disruptions.

“I am concerned that we are going to also be increasingly facing the associated rising health threats if we don’t have rapid and urgent action,” she said.

Read the Harvard Gazette Q&A: Heatwave = heat stroke = ER visit

Learn more

Climate change can harm health, but most medical schools don’t teach it (Harvard Chan School news)