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Climate-related health impacts

Human health is bound to the health of the planet and the environment we share with animals.
The climate can negatively impact human health in many ways. A changing climate can lead to environmental conditions that increase exposure to allergens, viral or bacterial disease, and hotter temperatures. Such consequences include respiratory illness, food- and vector-borne disease, and heat waves.
An increase in temperatures causes milder winters and less precipitation which can result in environmental conditions that negatively affect health.
Such conditions can foster the growth and abundance of allergens, which affect respiratory health (especially for those who are already susceptible to irritants). People who have existing heart conditions may be more susceptible to heat-related diseases such as heat stroke. Vector- and food-borne diseases could increase with rising temperatures and longer warm seasons because these conditions create more hospitable habitats for vectors, like mosquitos and ticks. The climate can also impact air quality, water quality, and food production and safety.
In 2019, 5.6% of children and 9.9% of adults in Utah had asthma.
Asthma is a condition where exposure to a "trigger," usually a common allergen, causes the lung airways to tighten and fill with fluid. Individuals with asthma suffer from tightness in the chest, have trouble breathing, and experience recurring episodes of wheezing. Unfortunately, there is no cure for asthma and it is usually managed with medication and avoiding asthma triggers.

Pollen is the most common trigger for allergic reactions and allergy-related asthma.
Respiratory allergic diseases, like allergic asthma and allergic rhinitis (hay fever), occur when an individual's immune system reacts abnormally after being exposed to a substance in the environment. These environmental substances are called allergens and include pollen, mold spores, pet dander, and dust. Respiratory allergic diseases are usually the result of inhaling an allergen through the nose and into the lungs.

Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) is the third leading cause of death globally.
COPD is a group of diseases, including emphysema and chronic bronchitis, that cause airflow blockages and problems with breathing. There is no cure for COPD, but it can be treated to maintain quality of life. In developed countries, the primary cause of COPD is smoking. In developing countries, COPD often occurs in people exposed to fumes from cooking and heating.

In 2018, the top mosquito-borne diseases in Utah were West Nile virus and Zika virus.
A vector is any organism that carries disease and transfers that disease to another organism. Animals, and in particular, arthropods (such as mosquitoes, flies, and mites), are the usual vectors that cause vector-borne diseases. Such diseases include dengue, Lyme disease, malaria, and West Nile virus. Warmer temperatures may have an affect on the proliferation of vector populations by decreasing the time it takes for a vector to develop, resulting in larger vector populations. Larger vector populations have the potential to infect more human hosts.

In 2018, Utah had more than 450 emergency department visits due to heat stress.
Within the United States, heat waves are currently the most deadly weather event, causing more deaths than tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods combined. The two most common heat-related diseases are heat exhaustion and heat stroke. Heat exhaustion is a milder form of heat illness, which occurs when an individual is exposed to high temperatures for multiple days without an adequate intake of fluids. On the other hand, heat stroke is a serious condition that can cause permanent damage and death. Once an individual develops heat stroke, the ability to cool the body fails.
Individuals with certain medical conditions, living conditions, or who are elderly are at greater risk for negative health effects due to climate effects:
  • Individuals with high blood pressure, diabetes, and the elderly are at higher risk for heat-related disease.
  • Individuals who do not have access to adequate housing or who are living in unsanitary conditions are at higher risk for vector-borne diseases.
  • Individuals in certain occupations such as first responders, construction workers, gardeners, and park rangers are at higher risk for both heat-related and vector-borne diseases.
  • Individuals with asthma, respiratory allergic diseases, and COPD are at greater risk for heat-related diseases and allergen exposure.
Health education is key:
  • Understand how to avoid exposure to common asthma and allergy triggers.
  • Stay safe outdoors; wear proper protective clothing, avoid high grasses and brushy areas, use insect repellent, and avoid wild animals to prevent vector-borne disease.
  • Ensure compliance with state and federal regulations to keep Utah's food supply safe.
  • Learn how to recognize the signs and symptoms of heat-related disease.

Resources

Hospitalizations for heat stress

  • Count of hospitalizations: Statewide
  • Crude rates for hospitalizations, by age group: Statewide
  • Age-adjusted rates of hospitalizations: Statewide

Emergency department visits for heat stress


Number of lyme disease cases, statewide


Crude rates of lyme disease, statewide

Utah Tracking receives climate-related health data from the Utah Department of Health and Human Services Bureau of Epidemiology and the Behavioral Risk Factor Surveillance System (BRFSS) from the DHHS Office of Public Health Assessment.

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The links listed below redirect you to health assessments conducted in Utah that are relevant to climate. The Utah Department of Health and Human Services APPLETREE program evaluates and responds to environmental public health issues in Utah. For more information, please visit the Utah APPLETREE website.

The information provided above is from the Utah Department of Health's Center for Health Data IBIS-PH web site (http://epht.health.utah.gov). The information published on this website may be reproduced without permission. Please use the following citation: " Retrieved Sat, 01 October 2022 8:38:43 from Utah Department of Health, Center for Health Data, Indicator-Based Information System for Public Health Web site: http://epht.health.utah.gov ".

Content updated: Tue, 2 Aug 2022 12:10:41 MDT