By: Terri Schmitt PhD, APRN, FNP-BC, FAANP
With heat records being set around the world in the last few weeks, the possible effects on our patients cannot be ignored. Knowing local trends and risks is important to being prepared and preparing patients. Beyond staying indoors, wearing sunscreen, and drinking more water there are other ways that rising temperatures are affecting patient health. Vulnerable populations are the most at risk. These include persons with minimal resources, patients with chronic disease, the elderly, and children as most susceptible to extreme heat. One easy first step is finding a list of public spaces that offer heat relief, similar to storm shelters. Many communities need help in advocating and managing such heat safe spaces.
Besides protection from direct heat, spread of infectious diseases appears to be a secondary affect. Rising temperatures, coupled with the effects of human population growth are contributing to infectious disease pattern changes. Florida for example, is now noting cases of malaria as well as chikungunya, both mosquito born illnesses. Other infectious diseases on the rise include Lyme disease, West Nile Virus, and Valley fever. Clinicians should encourage patients to use mosquito repellants, netting, minimize open windows, and checking for insect bites after being outdoors. Insect bite reports continue to rise, but a contributing co-factor is animal displacement into populated areas due to habitat changes. Rising water temperatures appear to be contributing to increased risk for water born illness and related infections.
Air pollutants are also linked to rising temperatures. Increased rates of respiratory problems can also be seen with heat as rising temperatures cause a concentration of air pollutants. Making patients with respiratory problems aware of this complication, coupled with early lung disease diagnosis and treatment can be of benefit.
Resources on infectious disease and rising temperature related health information can be found at the links below. Increasing temperatures and the repercussions are a wide-reaching public health issue. No patient population will be left unaffected. Helping our patients to improve their health outcomes, being knowledgeable of new diseases and risks, monitoring local health issues, and advocating for patients and communities continues to be of utmost importance.
CDC Climate Effects on Health – https://www.cdc.gov/climateandhealth/effects/default.htm
NIHHIS at Heat.gov – https://www.heat.gov/pages/who-is-at-risk-to-extreme-heat
The Lancet, Climate Change: Fires, floods, and infectious disease – https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanmic/article/PIIS2666-5247(21)00220-2/fulltext
Climate and Health Resources – https://climatehealthaction.org/go/resources/