SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 24, 2016

Global warming may increase malaria incidence

Researchers found that malaria moves to higher elevations during warmer years, which suggests future climate warming will lead to an increase in malaria cases, according to a study soon to be published in Science.

Scientists from the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the University of Michigan used records from the highland regions of Ethiopia and Cambodia to produce the first hard evidence that malaria goes to higher elevations during warmer years. The study found that when temperatures cool, the disease creeps back down to lower altitudes.

The study suggests that global warming will result in significant gains in the number of malaria cases in densely populated regions of South America and Africa, unless disease control and monitoring efforts are increased and sustained.

"Traditionally, we think of malaria as a disease with limited prevalence in highland regions, but we are now seeing a shift due to climate change," Menno Bouma, one of the study's authors, said. "Our latest research suggests that with progressive global warming, malaria will creep up the mountains and spread to new high-altitude areas. And because these populations lack protective immunity, they will be particularly vulnerable for severe morbidity and mortality."

The researchers found that even a small climate change could result in a major malaria increase. The team estimated that an increase of approximately 1.8 degrees Fahrenheit could result in an added three million malaria cases annually among children in Ethiopia alone.

"This is indisputable evidence of a climate effect," Mercedes Pascual, another study author, said. "Our findings here underscore the size of the problem and emphasize the need for sustained intervention efforts in these regions, especially in Africa."