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Malaria & Climate Change—A Direct Relation?

Malaria & Climate Change—A Direct Relation?

The increasing global temperatures are posing serious threats to ecosystems and the species they support, including disease-carrying vectors like mosquitoes. A recent study, which appears in the journal Biology Letters, reveals that malaria-transmitting mosquitoes in sub-Saharan Africa have spread further due to the effects of climate change.

The study’s findings suggest that over the last century, these mosquitoes have shifted towards higher elevations by an average of 6.5 meters (21 feet) each year and have moved further away from the equator by approximately 4.7 kilometers (3 miles) annually.

The pace of these movements is consistent with climate change, and this could be the reason why malaria has spread its reach in recent decades. Such findings have far-reaching implications for countries that are not equipped to deal with the disease.

What Do Experts Say?

Colin Carlson, a biologist from Georgetown University’s Center for Global Health Science and Security, states that the migration of malaria-transmitting mosquitoes is undeniably connected to climate change. The severe consequences of rapid species redistribution on ecosystem stability are evident in Lyme disease-carrying ticks in the northern United States, bats carrying diseases such as rabies, and dying lobsters in the Northeast. Morgan Tingley, an ecologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, highlights that these changes are now happening too quickly, and many species cannot sustain the rapid shift, leading to disastrous consequences.

New Species In Play

In Hawaii, the invasion of new mosquito species is posing a threat to the survival of the endangered ‘akeke’e and ‘akikiki birds that suffer from avian malaria. With fewer than 50 ‘akikiki birds left, extinction is expected by the end of this decade. To combat these threats, it is essential to gather data on the speed and movement of disease vectors, including mosquitoes. Warmer climates provide an ideal condition for mosquitoes to reproduce faster due to the parasites they carry.

The Impact Of Global Warming

As the planet warms, plants and animals, particularly invertebrates, are moving to cooler temperatures, either by moving to higher altitudes or by moving closer to the poles. The study relied on a database chronicling the distribution of 22 species of mosquitoes in sub-Saharan Africa between 1898 and 2016, with data sourced from various sources such as entomological surveys, peer-reviewed publications, and archival records. Dr. Tingley said he had full confidence in the reported trend, but it may be underestimating the accelerated pace of global warming in recent years.

While some mosquito movement may be due to changes in land use, availability of food, or human migration, experts are concerned about disease-bearing mosquitoes in areas where people and institutions are unprepared. As Dr. Carlson said, “a heat wave is much deadlier in Detroit than it is in San Antonio at the same temperature. It’s the surprise that kills you.”

How To Protect Yourself From Malaria?

Are you stuck in a malaria-endemic area and wondering how to protect yourself from this potentially deadly disease? Fortunately, there are several measures you can take to reduce your risk of contracting malaria.

First and foremost, consult a healthcare professional or a travel medicine specialist well in advance of your trip. They can advise you on the appropriate medications for preventing malaria based on your destination, medical history, and other factors.

Next, take precautions to avoid mosquito bites. Wear long-sleeved shirts and long pants, especially during the evening and nighttime when mosquitoes are most active. Use insect repellent on your skin and clothing, preferably containing DEET, picaridin, or oil of lemon eucalyptus. Use bed nets, preferably impregnated with insecticides, to protect yourself while sleeping.

Additionally, try to minimize your exposure to mosquitoes by staying indoors during peak mosquito activity periods, such as dusk and dawn. Keep windows and doors closed or screened to prevent mosquitoes from entering your accommodation.

It’s also important to be aware of the symptoms of malaria, which can include fever, chills, headache, and muscle pain. Seek medical attention immediately if you experience any of these symptoms, even if you have been taking preventive medication.

Finally, remember that no preventive measure is 100% effective, so it’s important to remain vigilant and take these precautions consistently throughout your trip.

By taking these steps to protect yourself from malaria, you can minimize your risk and enjoy your travels with peace of mind.

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