Climate change and health | Weekend Magazine

Dr. Sedden Savage, a doctor at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire, has discovered three lice embedded in his body this spring. The earlier-than-usual start of tick season, which is quickly becoming the norm in northern New England, has everyone who likes to spend time outdoors, Savage included, worried about the risk of Lyme disease.

But another thing he thought was that none of his own health care providers had mentioned climate change was linked to the appearance of lice before. And the doctor’s office says he and a growing number of healthcare providers are a great place to talk about climate change.

The health impacts of climate change also extend beyond ticks: Problems like asthma, disease-causing pathogens, natural disasters, and mental health can all be exacerbated by climate change as well.

“Really,” says Savage, “climate change is probably the greatest health threat to humans of our time, it’s the biggest threat we’ve ever faced.” In fact, the World Health Organization lists climate change as the single greatest health threat facing humanity.

However, say Savage and colleagues, Dr. Robert McLellan, the relationship between climate change and human health has historically not been able to reach the conversations that take place in the exam room. As an occupational and environmental medicine therapist, McLellan has spent his career thinking about the impact of the environment, whether built or natural, on public health, but he has been frustrated throughout his career to see our understanding of health lack connection to clean water, safe food, safe housing. and other environmental factors.

Hippocrates, McLellan points out, who was the founder of modern medicine hundreds of years ago, implored his medical students to first ask their patients questions such as: Where do they live? What water do they drink? What food do they eat? He understood the relationship between the environment and health, however, in today’s medical school, this connection was not always made.

The doctor’s office, Savage and McLellan say, is an ideal place for discussions about climate change and human health. McLellan said, “In my 40 years of clinical practice, one of the most common questions patients have is ‘Why? Why am I sick?’” That doesn’t mean that a lecture on climate change is necessary, but it is an opportunity to discuss how it can cause health problems. That way, he explained, health care providers can work with patients to prevent future complications or problems.

Savage shares the same sentiment: “Part of practicing medicine is to prevent future disease,” he says. “Part of it is really to help patients understand why this particular problem is happening, right now.” He gave an example of asthma: As Hippocrates suggested, he might ask patients about where they live and what sources of pollution are nearby.

Lice are another example. Healthcare providers, says Savage, should let people know that we now have an even longer tick season. While we have great repellents available to prevent tick bites, patients should be informed that we now need to start applying them in February, not May, as the climate is changing.

For this reason, Savage and McLellan have teamed up, through Dartmouth Health, to bring a series of workshop sessions to healthcare providers in northern New England focused on the impact of climate change on human health. The six sessions, offered online from late April to July, cover topics such as planetary health and climate change science, extreme weather patterns, the impact of evolving ecosystems on vector-borne and other diseases, and the health effects of air pollution, among others.

This series is open to anyone who provides care to others, from first emergency responders to high-level specialists, even including city employees, such as librarians, who wish to share information with their community. This series uses the framework of the ECHO (Extension for Public Health Outcomes) Project, a program of the University of New Mexico Center for Health Sciences. The framework includes presentations from experts and plenty of discussion among participants, who can bring their questions or case studies from their own practice. In the past, there have also been ECHOs offered by Dartmouth Health on other topics, including Lyme disease and COVID-19.

Session instructors, such as Dr. Sarah Crockett, who specializes in emergency care and wilderness medicine, wanted participants to leave with a better understanding of the current threat of climate change, and for that understanding to include the relationship between climate change and human health.

“It’s not just about coral reefs and polar bears, it’s also about human health,” said Dr. Crockett. “Climate change is a public health crisis. Consider this not only an environmental issue but also a human health issue.”

Another workshop instructor, Dr. Laura Paulin, specializes in air pollution, as it relates to climate change, and its impact on human health. He will lead a session on that topic.

“Often, this is the first time anyone has heard of this,” Paulin said of the link between air pollution, climate change and health. There is very good data, says Dr. Paulin, from the World Health Organization and the American Lung Association who explains the impact of air pollution on human health. Data shows that air pollution is a major concern for human health globally, but while we tend to think of this as a problem in other parts of the world, he explains, data from the American Lung Association suggests that we can have high levels of air pollution. air pollution, sometimes, here too.

The workshop sessions will focus on the climatic conditions here in northern New England and the impact that healthcare professionals are seeing today.

But while the topic has the potential to sound ominous and dangerous, Crockett and Paulin say there is a hopeful message to take from this session. First, the workshop will include local resources and real-time information for people working in the field, so they can feel empowered to help. Medical professionals also have the opportunity to become advocates for climate change action and by working together, can become one voice advocating for climate mitigation measures that will reduce impacts on human health.

It’s about asking, says Crockett, “What do we need to do to make our own communities ready for climate change?”

Paulin said, “There are things we can do at the individual level, at the community level and at the national level. There are things everyone can do to feel empowered, to understand what resources are available, and to make choices that make a difference.”

The remaining planned sessions for this ECHO series include:

May 11 Extreme Weather Events: Patterns, Preparations, Responses

May 25: Impact of Evolving Ecosystems on Vector Transmission and Other Diseases

June 8: Health Impact of Air Pollution

June 22: Connecting Earth, Body, Mind and Spirit

July 6: Open session, TBD topic


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