- Dianne Manson/Getty Images
In the Chesapeake Bay and along the Gulf Coast, people can contract a dangerous flesh-eating bacterial infection after eating or handling raw shellfish.
Infections caused by Vibrio vulnificus can result in tissue death, and sometimes lead to limb amputations. Fortunately they’re also rare in the US.
But a case report published today in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine suggests that rising ocean temperatures may lead the bacteria to spread to previously unaffected waters.
“In 2017, we saw three cases of severe skin infections, which raised some flags,” Dr. Katherine Doktor, an infectious disease specialist at Cooper University Hospital who co-wrote the report, told Business Insider. “In 2018, we saw two more. These five cases are significant because in the eight years prior to 2017, we only saw one case of Vibrio vulnificus at our institution.”
Read More: A man had his arm amputated after eating raw seafood contaminated with a potentially flesh-eating bacteria
People can catch the bacteria by handling or consuming raw shellfish
In the past, V. vulnificus infections have arisen after people swam in or came into contact with seafood from the Chesapeake Bay. But it was very rare for this to occur farther north, in the cooler Delaware Bay. That’s no longer the case, according to Doktor and her colleagues. All five patients in the case report were infected after they were exposed to water in the Delaware Bay or consumed crabs in the area.
There are multiple species of Vibrio bacteria, and most make us sick, causing diarrhea, cramping, nausea, vomiting, and fever. Usually such symptoms pass in about three days, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
But V. vulnificus can cause serious bloodstream infections that are accompanied by blood-filled blisters and necrotizing fasciitis, or flesh-eating disease, which kills body tissue. Often these infections can be treated with antibiotics, but the dead tissue must sometimes be removed, or the associated limb amputated, to keep the infection from spreading to other parts of the body. The bloodstream infection leads to death in 20% of cases.
People can get infected with Vibrio vulnificus by eating raw or undercooked shellfish, especially oysters, according to the CDC. It can also infect the skin if an open wound is exposed to brackish water or saltwater. Some people get infections after wading through storm flood waters. There were several Vibrio-associated deaths after Hurricane Katrina, for example.
“The infection courses through the entire body, kind of like a hurricane or tornado that ravages everything,” Doktor said.
Of the five patients mentioned in the new case report, three had to get infected tissue removed, one man had his hands and feet amputated, and one person died in the hospital.
- A Vibrio vulnificus infection caused swollen blisters on a man’s hand. The limb later had to be amputated.
- The New England Journal of Medicine, 2018.
The bacteria is expanding its range due to warming waters
According to the authors of the case report, climate change is partially responsible for the growing range of this deadly bacteria. Last year was the warmest year on record for Earth’s oceans, and warmer waters “are associated with alterations in the quantity, distribution, and seasonal windows” of V. vulnificus. That likely explains why infections are occurring more frequently outside the traditional geographic boundaries of this bacteria, the authors wrote.
“The bacteria likes warm salty water,” Doktor said, adding that cases usually peak between late July and early October, when the Gulf of Mexico and Chesapeake Bay are warmest.
Doktor said the case report is meant to alert clinicians in the Delaware Bay area that they might see more of this type of infection than they once did, and urge them to consider it as a potential diagnosis when patients come in with wounds matching V. vulnificus exposure.
- An oyster farmer opens a diseased oyster in Sydney, Australia, in 2005.
- Ian Waldie/Getty Images
Vibrio infections have also been reported in Europe, and in 2018, a South Korean man had to have his left forearm amputated after contracting the infection from eating raw seafood.
V. vulnificus isn’t the only infectious disease spreading due to warming
Doktor said patients who contract severe Vibrio infections – like those in the case report – typically have other risk factors like liver disease, diabetes, or hepatitis.
“People who don’t have any health problems who are exposed to bacteria may feel a little sick,” she said, though she added that it’s still a good idea to avoid consuming raw or undercooked shellfish.
But Doktor added that experts who study infectious diseases aren’t just worried about V. vulnificus spreading due to warming.
“We’re concerned about infections that were once considered only tropical could now occur at warmer latitudes,” she said.
A study published in March forecasted that climate change is likely affect the range and distribution of mosquitoes carrying the Zika virus and dengue fever. According to that study, nearly 500 million new people could be at risk of exposure to these diseases by 2050.
- The mosquito (Aedes aegypti) can spread several diseases as it travels from person to person.
If greenhouse-gas emissions continue to rise unabated, nearly 1 billion new people will be exposed to these disease-carrying mosquito species by the year 2080.
- In 2015, 21 young people sued the federal government, claiming the US government was violating their constitutional rights by contributing to climate change despite knowledge of its dangerous consequences.
- The Obama and Trump administrations have both attempted to get the case thrown out numerous times.
- Yesterday, three federal judges in Portland, Oregon heard arguments about case. They will decide whether or not it can go to trial.
- Public-health experts supported the plaintiffs claims’ that climate change contributes to significant negative health impacts.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Four years ago, 21 young people sued the US government, alleging that its role in contributing to climate change violates their constitutional rights.
In the landmark lawsuit, the plaintiffs allege that their generation has already suffered and will continue to suffer the consequences of a climate breakdown – including health problems like allergies, heat stroke, and insect-borne disease. The young plaintiffs, represented by the non-profit law organization Our Children’s Trust, are asking the government to adopt policies that will reduce greenhouse-gas emissions.
“Our elected leaders have really dropped the ball on this one,” plaintiff Alex Loznak previously told Business Insider. “The leadership really has to come from those who are going to be impacted, and that’s us, that’s young people, that’s me and my fellow plaintiffs.”
Both the Obama and Trump administrations tried multiple times to get the lawsuit dismissed. The government’s latest legal maneuver came in the fall of last year, when the Trump administration requested a pre-trial appeal from the Supreme Court. The lawsuit was temporarily put on hold, and the Supreme Court eventually punted the decision about the appeal back to the Ninth Circuit.
- Alex Loznak speaks following a court hearing in Eugene, Oregon in March 2016.
- Andrea Willingham/Our Children’s Trust
Now, more than six months after the original trial date, the plaintiffs’ lawyers and US government attorneys presented arguments about whether the case should be allowed to proceed in front of a panel of judges in Portland, Oregon. The judges’ decision will ultimately determine whether or not the case will go to trial.
A landmark climate change lawsuit, led by kids
Loznak and his fellow plaintiffs’ case rests on a simple though unprecedented argument: They allege that the US government has violated their rights to life, liberty, and property by engaging in actions that contribute to climate change despite long-held knowledge of its harmful consequences.
The young people – ranging in age from 11 to 23, and hailing from 10 states – aren’t asking for compensation. Instead, they want the court to compel federal agencies to end policies that directly hurt the environment (like subsidizing fossil-fuel extraction) and mandate government action that will phase out excess greenhouse-gas emissions.
- The youth plaintiffs after a court hearing in Eugene, Oregon in March 2016.
- Andrea Willingham/Our Children’s Trust
At yesterday’s hearing, Julia Olson, chief legal counsel for Our Children’s Trust, asked the court to “apply bedrock constitutional law and principles to a wholly new set of facts,” since this is the first time anyone has made the legal argument that a stable, safe climate is a constitutional right.
She added that current federal energy policy “puts children in harm’s way.”
“You present compelling evidence that we have a real problem,” one of the judges, Andrew Hurwitz, said yesterday in response to Olson’s arguments. “You present compelling evidence that we have inaction by the other two branches of government. It may even rise to the level of criminal neglect. The tough question for me – and I suspect for my colleagues – is, do we get to act because of that?” Hurwitz said.
- The youth plaintiffs after a court hearing in Eugene, Oregon in March 2016.
- Andrea Willingham/Our Chidren’s Trust
Jeffrey Bossert Clark, an assistant attorney general, argued on behalf of the administration that this case “is a dagger at the separation of powers,” since plaintiffs want the judiciary branch to play a role in directing policy, rather than leaving that to elected officials.
In an earlier legal filing, the Trump administration attorneys said “there is no fundamental constitutional right to a ‘stable climate system.’”
If the judges decide not to allow the case to proceed, it could be dismissed (though there would be opportunities for subsequent appeals). There’s no deadline for the panel’s decision, though.
Climate change contributes to negative health impacts
One of the linchpins in the plaintiffs’ argument is that climate change has negatively impacted their mental and physical well-being, and will continue to do so in the future.
In a May 30 letter to the New England Journal of Medicine, multiple public health officials stated that “developing fetuses, infants, and children are more biologically and psychologically vulnerable than adults to the effects of climate change.”
More frequent and longer heat waves, increasingly intense weather events like droughts and wildfires, greater exposure to infectious disease, food and water insecurity, and air pollution from fossil-fuel burning are all threats, the authors added.
- The Our Children’s Trust team of plaintiffs on the steps of the Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on April 27, 2017.
- Robin Loznak Photography
The letter echoed an amicus brief that some 80 researchers and 15 health organizations filed in favor of the plaintiffs. The brief documented how people born in the US since 1995 – the plaintiffs’ generation – have been disproportionately impacted by the effects of climate change.
The brief’s authors added that the plaintiffs’ generation is “suffering – and will continue to suffer as they age – harms different from those of prior generations.” As examples, they cited the negative effects of heat, drought, severe storms, and air pollution on the group’s mental and physical health.
These young plaintiffs aren’t alone
In the four years since the plaintiffs filed their suit, youth around the world have started mobilizing in other ways to address the threat of climate change.
Read More: Millennials and Gen Z are finally gaining ground in the climate battle – here are the signs they’re winning
Protesters from the Sunrise Movement, a group of young people who advocate for climate-change policy, demonstrated outside Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s office to call for a Green New Deal in 2018. Since then, New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts introduced a Green New Deal resolution in the US House and Senate.
Greta Thunberg, a young Swedish climate activist who was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, has emerged as the primary voice and face of the growing School Strike for Climate movement. On March 15, 2019, young people in more than 123 countries joined Thunberg to skip school and voice their demands for more robust climate policies and the reduction of greenhouse-gas emissions.
“We’re in a climate moment right now,” environmental activist and author Bill McKibben previously told Business Insider. He added, “all these things started to combine to produce this new moment where people are open to change.”
But if the plaintiffs fail to sway this panel of judges, that could set a devastating precedent for other climate suits, according to Ann Carlson, an environmental law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles.
“That would leave the government essentially immune from being sued for policies involving climate change,” Carlson told the LA Times.
The plaintiffs also see themselves as part of a larger movement.
“It’s not just these 21 young people across the United States,” Vic Barrett, one of the plaintiffs, told the New York Times. “It’s about highlighting young people all over the United States, and the work we’re doing and the work we’re continuing to do to hold the government accountable for putting our future in jeopardy.”
If you crave a pint (or two) at the end of a hard day, brace yourself: Climate change is poised to make your favourite lager, ale or IPA more scarce and pricey.
On current trends, a crescendo of heatwaves and droughts will periodically cause sharp declines in barley yields, a crucial ingredient in most beer, according to a study published recently.
“Decreases in the global supply of barley lead to proportionally larger decreases in barley used to make beer,” said lead author Dabo Guan, a professor of climate change economics and the University of East Anglia in Britain.
Only the highest quality grain – less than 20% – is used to make beer, with most of the rest used as feedstock.
“High-quality barley is even more sensitive to extreme weather events linked to climate change,” Guan said.
During severe climate events, global beer consumption would decline by 16%, or nearly 30 billion litres – equal to all the beer quaffed each year in the United States, Guan and an international team of researchers reported in the journal Nature Plants.
Beer prices in the wake of these disruptive weather events would, on average, double.
By volume, beer is by far the most popular alcoholic drink in the world, with nearly 200 billion litres produced in 2017.
Some countries will get hit harder by beer shortages and higher bar tabs than others, the study found.
In China – whose 1.3 billion people collectively down more brew than any other nation – consumption would fall by a staggering 4.3 billion litres in a bad year.
Britain would also get thirsty during a severe barley crunch, with consumption dropping by up to 1.3 billion litres, and the price of a pint doubling.
Per capita, most of the top-20 beer-drinking nations are in Europe, along with the United States, New Zealand and Australia.
Keep calm, have a beer
Guan and colleagues calculated the impact of severe weather events under different future climate scenarios – ranging from a sharp reduction in greenhouse gas emissions to our current “business as usual” trajectory – on yields in the world’s 34 most important barley-growing regions.
An extreme weather year was defined as one with both heatwaves and drought – in a barley region during growing season – more severe than once-a-century events before global warming began.
From 2010 to the end of the century, they found, there will be 17 such events if humanity manages to cap global warming under 2°C, and 139 if current rates of carbon pollution persist.
The next step was to estimate how these “barley supply shocks” would affect the production and price of beer in each region.
In a climate-addled world where staple crops such as wheat, corn, soybeans and rice are predicted to decline in yield and nutritional value, pressure will likely mount to use barley as a source of food rather than to make brew.
“Climate change may undermine the availability, stability and access to ‘luxury’ goods,” said Guan.
At the same time, the “cross-cultural appreciation of beer” is deep and widespread, he noted.
“There is little doubt that for millions of people around the world, the climate impact on beer availability and price will add insult to injury,” he said.
As the adage goes, “It’s all fun and games until the beer runs out.”
The top exporters of barley are Australia, France, Russia, Ukraine and Argentina, with many European countries filling out the top 20.
The biggest importers are China, Saudi Arabia and Iran, with three top brewing nations – Netherlands, Belgium and Japan – just behind. – AFP Relaxnews
Rice is the primary food source for more than three billion people around the world. Many are unable to afford a diverse and nutritious diet that includes complete protein, grains, fruits and vegetables. They rely heavily on more affordable cereal crops, including rice, for most of their calories.
(The University of Washington) research focuses on health risks associated with climate variability and change. In a recently published study (May 23, Science Advances) we worked with scientists from Australia, China, Japan, and the United States to assess how the rising carbon dioxide concentrations that are fuelling climate change could alter the nutritional value of rice.
We conducted field studies in Asia for multiple genetically diverse rice lines, analysing how rising concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere altered levels of protein, micro-nutrients and B vitamins.
Our data showed for the first time that rice grown at the concentrations of atmospheric carbon dioxide which scientists expect the world to reach by 2100 has lower levels of four key B vitamins. These findings also support research from other field studies showing rice grown under such conditions contains less protein, iron and zinc, which are important in foetal and early child development.
These changes could have a disproportionate impact on maternal and child health in the poorest rice-dependent countries, including Bangladesh and Cambodia.
In field studies carried out in China and Japan, the rice that was grown in air with elevated CO2 concentrations contained significant nutrition losses. Photo: AP
Carbon dioxide and plant growth
Plants obtain the carbon they need to grow primarily from carbon dioxide (CO2) in the atmosphere, and draw other required nutrients from the soil. Human activities – mainly fossil fuel combustion and deforestation – raised atmospheric CO2 concentrations from about 280 parts per million during pre-industrial times to 410 parts per million today.
If global emission rates continue on their current path, atmospheric CO2 concentrations could reach over 1,200 parts per million by 2100 (including methane and other greenhouse gas emissions).
Higher concentrations of CO2 are generally acknowledged to stimulate plant photosynthesis and growth. This effect could make the cereal crops that remain the world’s most important sources of food – such as rice, wheat and corn – more productive, although recent research suggests that predicting impacts on plant growth is complex.
Concentrations of minerals critical for human health, particularly iron and zinc, do not change in unison with CO2 concentrations. Current understanding of plant physiology suggests that major cereal crops – particularly rice and wheat – respond to higher CO2 concentrations by synthesising more carbohydrates (starches and sugars) and less protein, and by reducing the quantity of minerals in their grains.
About 600 million people, mostly in South-East Asia, get more than half of their daily calories and protein directly from rice. Photo: AP
Importance of micro-nutrients
Worldwide, approximately 815 million people are food-insecure, meaning that they do not have reliable access to sufficient quantities of safe, nutritious and affordable food. Even more people – approximately two billion – have deficiencies of important micro-nutrients such as iron, iodine and zinc.
Insufficient dietary iron can lead to iron-deficiency anaemia, a condition in which there are too few red blood cells in the body to carry oxygen. This is the most common type of anaemia. It can cause fatigue, shortness of breath or chest pain, and can lead to serious complications, such as heart failure and developmental delays in children.
Zinc deficiencies are characterised by loss of appetite and a diminished sense of smell, impaired wound healing, and a weakened immune function. Zinc also supports growth and development, so sufficient dietary intake is important for pregnant women and growing children.
Higher carbon concentrations in plants reduce nitrogen amounts in plant tissue, which is critical for the formation of B vitamins. Different B vitamins are required for key functions in the body, such as regulating the nervous system, turning food into energy, and fighting infections. Folate, a B vitamin, reduces the risk of birth defects when consumed by pregnant women.
Significant nutrition losses
We carried out our field studies in China and Japan, where we grew different strains of rice outdoors. To simulate higher atmospheric CO2 concentrations, we used Free-Air CO2 Enrichment, which blows CO2 over fields to maintain concentrations that are expected later in the century. Control fields experience similar conditions except for the higher CO2 concentrations.
On average, the rice that we grew in air with elevated CO2 concentrations contained 17% less vitamin B1 (thiamine) than rice grown under current CO2 concentrations; 17% less vitamin B2 (riboflavin); 13% less vitamin B5 (pantothenic acid); and 30% less vitamin B9 (folate). Our study is the first to identify that concentrations of B vitamins in rice are reduced with higher CO2.
We also found average reductions of 10% in protein, 8% in iron and 5% in zinc. We found no change in levels of vitamin B6 or calcium. The only increase we found was in vitamin E levels for most strains.
Worsening world hunger
At present, about 600 million people – mostly in South-East Asia – get more than half of their daily calories and protein directly from rice. If nothing is done, the declines we found would likely worsen the overall burden of undernutrition. They also could affect early childhood development through impacts that include worsened effects from diarrhoeal disease and malaria.
The potential health risks associated with CO2-induced nutritional deficits are directly correlated to the lowest overall gross domestic product per capita. This suggests that such changes would have serious potential consequences for countries already struggling with poverty and undernutrition. Few people would associate fossil fuel combustion and deforestation with the nutritional content of rice, but our research clearly shows one way in which emitting fossil fuels could worsen world hunger challenges.
Climate change and other key plants
Unfortunately, today there is no entity at the federal, state or business level in the United States that provides long-term funding to evaluate how rising CO2 levels could affect plant chemistry and nutritional quality.
But CO2-induced changes have significant implications, ranging from medicinal plants to nutrition, food safety and food allergies. Given the potential impacts, which may already be occurring, there is a clear and urgent need to invest in this research.
It is also critical to identify options for avoiding or lessening these risks, from traditional plant breeding to genetic modification to supplements.
Rising CO2 concentrations are driving climate change. What role these emissions will play in altering all aspects of plant biology, including the nutritional quality of the crops that we use for food, feed, fibre and fuel, remains to be determined. – AP/The Conversation/Kristie Ebi
Kristie Ebi is professor of Global Health and Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences, University of Washington.
- By the year 2050, temperatures will top 100 degrees Fahrenheit far more frequently.
- REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton
As the mercury creeps up over the summer, it gets harder to do anything other than curl up inside an air-conditioned room or dive into the ocean.
If you’ve noticed that recent summers have felt particularly hot, you’re not wrong. The past four years have been the hottest four on record around the globe, with this year tracking to be the fourth hottest year ever. Heat in 2018 has already set all kinds of records, including the hottest temperature ever measured in Africa and the hottest overnight temperature ever recorded.
Unfortunately, that trend is expected to continue.
As humans continue to pump greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, more of the heat that our world absorbs from the sun gets trapped, raising the world’s average temperature and triggering other changes.
By 2050, cities in the US and around the world are expected to see a skyrocketing number of days with temperatures topping 100 degrees, and temperatures are projected to climb even higher by 2100. New York City, which has an annual average of zero days above 100 degrees Fahrenheit now, is expected to see 11 days like that per year by 2050 and 30 such days by 2100. Houston, which currently sees two days that top 100, is expected to get 30 such days by 2050 and 76 by 2100.
That heat isn’t just uncomfortable. The warming has serious effects on people’s physical health, mental well-being, and cognitive ability.
Here’s what science tells us about how extreme heat affects the body and brain.
Heat causes heat exhaustion, which can be dangerous.
- REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
Stepping outside on a July or August day can feel like a physical blow. The longer you spend in the heat, the more serious the effects on your body can be.
First, increased body temperature can start to cause heavy sweating, clammy skin, dehydration, tiredness, headache, dizziness, nausea, cramps, and a quick, weak pulse.
Someone in this state should move to cool place, sip water, and take a cool bath or put cool wet cloths on their body. If these symptoms last longer than an hour, worsen, or if a person is vomiting, then they need medical help, according to the CDC.
Once a person gets hot enough, they can develop heat stroke.
- REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson
Once body temperature rises to 103 Farenheit or higher, a person starts to suffer from heat stroke, which can be a fatal medical emergency.
Symptoms of this include many of the signs of heat exhaustion, though a person with heat stroke may have a fast, strong pulse; feel confusion; and may be losing consciousness. They also may stop sweating.
People suffering from heat stroke need to be cooled immediately. In that situation, don’t give a person anything to drink. Move them to a cool place, put cool cloths on them or put them in a cool bath, and call 911.
Extreme heat makes us dumber.
- REUTERS/Bernadett Szabo
If you’ve ever felt like the heat puts your brain into a fog – a sensation like that in a steam room, where it’s hard to breathe, much less think clearly – you’re not alone.
A number of studies show that as temperatures climb, we perform more slowly and more inaccurately on cognitive tests. This phenomenon affects everyone from students taking standardized tests to office workers trying to get through the day.
Heat causes air pollution and air quality to get worse, which makes it harder to breathe and leads to disease.
- REUTERS/Ricardo Moraes
Ever noticed how you see more air quality alert days in the summer? Get ready for more.
On hot days, heat from the sun causes pollutants to react with atmospheric gases to form ozone. The hotter it is, the more ozone pollution is produced. Plus, still air on hot days causes smog to stick around.
One 2008 study found that for every degree Celsius the temperature rises, ozone pollution can be expected to kill an additional 22,000 people around the world via respiratory illness, asthma, and emphysema.
Non-ozone air pollution linked to warmer weather will also increase rates of lung cancer, allergies and asthma, and cardiovascular disease.
A 2017 study found that air pollution already kills 9 million people every year. So as temperature increases, that death toll will rise.
Abnormally high temperatures can cause suicide rates to spike.
- REUTERS/Roosevelt Cassio
A study published this month in the journal Nature Climate Change reported that a 1-degree-Celsius rise in average monthly temperature was associated with an increase in the monthly suicide rate. In the US, that increase was about .7%, and in Mexico it was 2%.
By 2050, the study authors concluded, this will likely lead to 14,000 additional suicides in the US, though they say there could be as many as 26,050 more.
Hotter weather causes mental well-being to deteriorate.
- Getty Images/Spencer Platt
Many of us might associate the transition from winter to summer with a positive mood, but it seems the heat can wear us down over time.
The authors of that same study on the link between climate and suicide also analyzed more than 600 million tweets, and found that people were more likely to express depressive feelings as temperatures rose.
Warmer weather makes allergies and asthma even worse.
- REUTERS/Eduardo Munoz
When spring arrives every year, allergy sufferers feel it in their noses, throats, sinuses, eyes, and more. Spring pollen season now begins earlier in the year, and the growing season for allergenic pollen like ragweed has gotten longer.
More carbon dioxide in the air also increases pollen levels.
All of this leads to more sneezing and sniffling for for allergy sufferers – and these allergy symptoms can also make dangerous asthma attacks more frequent.
Heat waves are the deadliest form of extreme weather, responsible for more deaths in the US every year than the combined effects of hurricanes, lightning, tornadoes, earthquakes, and floods.
- REUTERS/Ueslei Marcelino
A study published last year in the journal Nature Climate Change found that 30% of the world is already exposed to heat that’s intense enough to kill people for 20 or more days each year. That level of intensity is defined using a heat index that takes into account temperature and humidity; above 104 degrees Farenheit (40 degrees C ), organs swell and cells start to break down.
In 2010, more than 10,000 people did in a Moscow heat wave. In 2003, some estimates say a European summer heat wave killed up to 70,000.