Climate change and the spread of tick-borne diseases
Climate change is perhaps the largest threat to public health that we face as a country, and a civilization. Too many people only consider the environmental impacts of global warming and don't realize public health is at serious risk. The destruction of the environment and global warming are expected to cause catastrophic changes in human health. In a nutshell, the more we destroy the environment, the warmer the planet will get, the greater the spread of disease will be.
As an environmental scientist, I am naturally concerned with the far-reaching negative impacts of human population growth on fragile ecosystems supporting the planet's life. Personally, due to my long history as a victim of tick-borne diseases, I have a particular interest in the global health consequences of climate change. An increase in global temperature is expected to cause extreme weather changes, and along with it, a frightening increase in the current range of tick-borne diseases. With the enormous degree of scientific uncertainty today, we really have no idea if, or how we will be able to adapt to these expected consequences.
According to scientific research, global warming is expected to extend the current range of existing vectors. In laymans terms, ticks and bugs will move further north, threatening all of us like a firestorm blowing out of control. In the past, ticks, mosquitos and other vectors could be controlled at least in part by cold weather. Climate normally limits how far these diseases spread, and cooler temperatures usually prevent ticks from migrating into cooler regions. In regions where ticks already exist, environmental controls such as pesticides can attempt to keep these things in balance, but these measures generally fail. Infectious diseases such as malaria, babesiosis, dengue fever, West Nile virus, Lyme disease and so on will spread further and further north. Dangerous pathogens that have normally been kept in check by seasonal temperatures will invade new regions, and spread uncontrolled onto unsuspecting victims.
Many people who historically had a very low risk of acquiring these diseases will soon be forced to worry about them. Compounding the situation, we are now seeing tick-borne disease outbreaks in areas where there have never been reported cases before. There will soon be no place safe left to hide and escape the wrath of the ticks.
While some environmental control measures may be partially effective in keeping infectious diseases at bay, climate change will probably force all of us to carefully analyze and manage the situation. Another problem is immigration, and refugees moving to new areas to escape the heat, bringing new germs along with them. The more we dredge wetlands and clearcut forests to build new homes, we take away the natural habitat for these bugs, the closer they will get to people, and the more we will threaten our own population.
Ticks and mosquitoes cannot see border fences, county lines, or property boundaries. Beautiful songbirds that you love watching at your backyard feeder are carrying ticks to your doorstep. Those ticks can't read signs; they do not know they are trespassing and not allowed to be there. Members of the animal kingdom do not have an awareness of their role in the spread of disease. Animals know how to survive, and adapt their existence to the changes taking place in their environment.
Whitetail deer are a classic example of how animals can adapt to habitat changes to ensure their survivial. Whitetail deer are a main host source for the spread of ticks, and one of the most common carriers. Whitetail deer thrive in forested areas and abundant suburban edge habitat. Edge habitat is the zone between your lawn and the woods, a common place for fences and stonewalls, and a favorite for deer. Deer use your yard as a corridor for grazing, and quickly retreat to the woods for safety, dropping ticks by the dozens onto your lawn.
Deer have an amazing ability to adapt to suburban environments. The deer are literally having a field day munching away on your day lilies and azaleas in the total absence of any danger. Predators such as mountain lions, coyotes and wolves, once found abundantly in the northeast, Midwest, Rocky Mountains, and most of the west coast had controlled deer populations but have now been mostly destroyed by humans. Deer have a high reproductive rate, so that, combined with the strict hunting rules in residential areas is making the deer overpopulation problem even worse. Because humans killed off the deer's natural predators, there is nothing to keep the deer population from growing out of control. Deer are also destroying native plant species and causing millions of dollars in property damage. In addition to the damage deer do to the environment, the overpopulation of deer is directly killing people, as the number of deer/car collisions is constantly rising.
The overpopulation of whitetail deer has lead to an enormous increase in the amount of tick-borne diseases. When the diseases strikes, with our current testing techniques for tick-borne diseases being so poor, the under reporting and misdiagnosis will be a huge problem. Scientific research on ticks is lacking, and we are still only in the discovery phase of understanding just how many infectious agents a single tick can carry. We know that ticks can carry infectious agents that cause Lyme disease, babesia, ehrlichia, bartonella, viruses, mycoplasma, Rocky Mountain spotted fever, tularemia, tick paralysis, relapsing fever, and a host of others as yet unidentified. Controlled medical studies seem to excude tick-borne co-infections and disregard the complex nature of these ilnnesses that are so commonly presenting in the clinical picture.
If we do not act collectively as a group of concerned citizens, the current situation will only get worse. I expect to see a huge cascade of negative events on human health because of the simple concept of supply and demand in the medical community. The more people that are infected by ticks, the more Lyme Literate Medical Doctor's (LLMDs) we are going to need. We do not have enough LLMD's as it is. Offices across the country are jam packed with patients waiting oftentimes several precious months for a scheduled office consultation. Imagine as this problem gets even worse what the longterm consequences will be?
Your average joe-shmo who has little experience being sick and dealing with the medical system in the USA is going to assume that an"Infectious Disease" doctor is this wonderful and genius entitity. The reality, which most of us have learned the hard way, is that the large majority of Infectious disease "ducks" (ie, quack, quack) have been brainwashed into preaching to us false and misleading claims that Lyme disease is not as serious as one would believe. Imagine the increase in patient load that these ID ducks will see. If we do not take the bull by the horns and take control of the spread of these ticks, the result will be a public health disaster.
Each of us has to do our job to help stop the spread of tick-borne diseases. Responsible planning would involve working to design your home environment so it is as inhospitable to ticks as possible. Chemical controls are available to help protect your home and property. Damminix "Tick Tubes" is a good example of a chemical control. Fencing is a good idea, but remember ticks are on birds, rodents, and pets, so just stopping the deer is not going to be enough to protect yourself. Concerned homeowners, businesses, individuals, schools and support groups should all be doing everything they can to minimize this threat to public health.
As a society, we usually do everything possible to protect ourselves from danger. We are well aware of crime, and we have common sense to protect ourselves from unwanted intruders. We spend billions of dollars on homeland security and the war on terror. What do we do when the enemy is already here? Ticks are tiny terrorists, and they have already destroyed many thousands of lives. What are we going to do when climate change allows these tiny assassins multiply by the billions and get even stronger?
Will technology save us? Unlike animals, people live in climate controled environments and rely on technology to "save them" from the apparent ills of the world. Well, there is not a technological answer for everything. Good old fashioned hands on work is what each of us needs to be doing to stop the spread of ticks. Take responsibility for your home and your family's physical protection. We all need to urge our local communities to spray for ticks and do something as a group to decrease the spread of tick-borne disease. Widespread education should be happenning in schools and in neighborhoods. We should be urging our government and the powers that be to acknowledge the seriousness of this matter.
Unfortunately, massive changes are needed on a global scale in order to prevent catastrophic impacts on human health due to the spread of tick-borne disease. Although efforts are underway to help halt the spread of ticks, it may simply be a case of too little, too late. In the case of Lyme disease, vaccination attempts have failed, and the disease continues to sweep across the United States and the world, unchecked and out of control.
The leaders of the world, scientists, and politicians cannot seem to agree on how to solve the global warming crisis. While they are taking their sweet time fighting with each other over money and oil, we are all getting sicker. The spread of tick-borne disease constitutes a homeland security breach! The very existence of families, communities, states, the economy and the future health of the human race are all threatened by this.
Lives will be destroyed by the tens of thousands, innocent victims of climate change and the fact that those in power positions sat back and chose to ignore the creeping consequences.
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|Cpyright WildCondor 2008|