Coastlines to become increasingly infested with harmful bacteria

Coastlines to become increasingly infested with harmful bacteria

Warming waters and changing salinity mean coasts around Northern Europe and the US are becoming more conducive to bacteria that cause severe disease such as gastroenteritis, cholera, severe wound infections and sepsis. File photo: Denis Minihane

Coastlines across Europe look set to become increasingly infested with bacteria that cause gastroenteritis, cholera, severe wound infections and even sepsis.

The Lancet Countdown’s sixth annual report declares a “code red” for a healthy future, as it warns that unless urgent action is taken, climate change will continue to exacerbate health hazards such as food and water insecurity, heatwaves, and the spread of infectious diseases.

The report, compiled by leading researchers from 38 academic institutions and UN agencies, tracks 44 indicators of health impacts that are directly linked to climate change. It warns the changing environment creates more favourable conditions for the transmission of many pathogens. 

The potential for outbreaks of dengue, chikungunya and Zika is increasing most rapidly in countries with a very high human development index, including European countries.

Warming waters and changing salinity mean coasts around Northern Europe and the US are becoming more conducive to bacteria that cause severe disease.

The amount of Northern Hemisphere coastline with suitable conditions for the transmission of harmful bacteria that can lead to conditions such as cholera and sepsis had increased by 56% by 2020 compared to the 1982–89 baseline.

Famines and heatwaves

Lancet also reports that food insecurity is increasing, with 2.2 billion people affected in 2019. 

In 70% of coastal countries analysed, increasing sea temperatures pose a real threat to marine food security, upon which 3.3 billion people depend. 

This year, the first climate famine has been documented in Madagascar, with more than 1.14 million people facing starvation.

Heatwave exposure poses a particular threat to young and older people, and each vulnerable group was exposed to an extra four days of heatwaves in 2020 when compared to the 1985-2005 baseline. 

Heat caused a record 345,000 deaths in the over-65 age group in 2019, almost a third of which were in the WHO European Region.

"Flashing red"

Lancet warn that a fossil fuel-driven recovery from the pandemic could push the world “irrevocably off course” from Paris Agreement climate targets, which will take its own toll on human health.

“The Lancet Countdown’s report has over 40 indicators and far too many of them are flashing red,” said Professor Anthony Costello, Executive Director of the Lancet Countdown.

“But the good news is that the huge efforts countries are making to kick-start their economies after the pandemic can be orientated towards responding to climate change and Covid-19 simultaneously. 

"We have a choice. The recovery from Covid-19 can be a green recovery that puts us on the path of improving human health and reducing inequities, or it can be a business-as-usual recovery that puts us all at risk,” he added.

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