Climate Change Ups Heat Deaths, Especially Among Elderly

More people vulnerable to heat exposure, potentially causing heat stress, heart and kidney disease.
More people vulnerable to heat exposure, potentially causing heat stress, heart and kidney disease.

HealthDay News — Risk for heat-related disease and death is rising worldwide due to climate change, according to a report published online November 28 in The Lancet.

Hotter temperatures threaten the elderly and other vulnerable people with heat stress and heart and kidney disease, according to an international team of experts. Last year, more than 157 million at-risk people were exposed to heat waves worldwide. That was 18 million more than in 2016, the researchers said. On average, each person was exposed to an additional 1.4 days of heat waves between 2000 and 2017 compared with 1986 to 2005. Besides adults older than 65, vulnerable people live in cities and have heart disease, diabetes, and chronic respiratory disease, the researchers noted. 

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Other findings of the report included the following: Between 1986 and 2017, the global temperature rose 0.3 degrees Celsius, or half of 1 degree Fahrenheit. But the average temperature increase to which people were exposed was more than twice as high – 0.8 degrees Celsius or 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit. Excessive heat led to 153 billion hours of labor lost worldwide last year, an increase of 62 billion hours from 2000. And small changes in temperature and rainfall can boost transmission of dengue fever and other infectious diseases that are spread through water and mosquitoes.

"Trends in the impacts of climate change, exposures, and vulnerabilities show unacceptably high risk for health now and in the future," study author Hilary Graham, PhD, a professor at the University of York in the United Kingdom, said in a news release. "It is clear that the nature and scale of the response to climate change will be the determining factor in shaping the health of nations for centuries to come."

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