AMA: Climate change is affecting the health of patients — and physicians are starting to see the results

If physicians want evidence of climate change, they may well find it in their own offices. Patients are presenting with illnesses that once happened only in warmer areas. Chronic conditions are becoming aggravated by more frequent and extended heat waves. Allergy and asthma seasons are getting longer….

Scientific evidence shows that the world’s climate is changing and that the results have public health consequences. The American Medical Association is working to ensure that physicians and others in health care understand the rise in climate-related illnesses and injuries so they can prepare and respond to them. The Association also is promoting environmentally responsible practices that would reduce waste and energy consumption.

That’s from a must-read editorial today from the American Medical Association, “Confronting health issues of climate change.” The AMA is but the latest major health organization to study and speak out about “the biggest global health threat of the 21st century,” as the medical journal Lancet‘s Health Commission put it.

Here’s more:

In recent months, the AMA has hosted three state-based CME courses on climate change, most recently in Florida in late February. A fourth is planned later for Illinois. Around the time of the Florida session, the AMA joined with the American Public Health Assn. in a conference call to reporters to bring greater attention to climate change. Florida is an apt setting, because it is particularly sensitive to climate change. Rising air and water temperatures and rising ocean levels since the late 1960s have increased the severity of weather, including hurricanes and droughts, and the production of ground-level ozone.

That means more asthma and respiratory illnesses, more heat stroke and exhaustion, and exacerbation of chronic conditions such as heart disease. Florida’s large elderly population makes it even more vulnerable to climate change. In the last two years, the Florida Keys have seen a tropical disease rarely apparent in residents of the United States — dengue fever….

Climate change produces weather extremes….  In Maine, that’s being seen in a marked increase of Lyme disease. It has risen tenfold in 10 years, particularly in the central and northern parts of the state, which had not seen the disease until recently.

The examples of Florida and Maine show how vector-borne diseases are spreading because of climate change. In Florida, changes in migration patterns and temperatures allow for dengue-infected mosquitoes to circulate. In Maine, warmer and shorter winters mean that deer ticks die off in smaller numbers, which means more will breed and advance farther north.

Treating diseases or conditions new to their location — and finding the ones that are growing worse — represent only part of the challenge to physicians presented by climate change. Physicians, like everyone else, can help fight the problem at the source by reducing waste and energy consumption through recycling and improving office energy efficiency. Doctors are often employers as well and can embrace policies that encourage employees to walk, bike or take public transportation to work.

The AMA also encourages physicians to work with their state and local health departments to improve the systems’ anticipation and awareness of climate-related health issues. The AMA Center for Public Health Preparedness and Disaster Response, and the Climate and Health Literacy Consortium (of which the AMA is a participant) have tips and resources to help.

Climate change is hardly a physician-only concern. However, doctors may find themselves on the front lines in dealing with its serious and immediate problems. Patients are sicker or developing new conditions as a result of changes in the weather. Greater awareness and understanding of the situation, from a medical perspective, is a proper priority.

Additional Information Available Here:

American Medical Association Center for Public Health Preparedness and Disaster Response (

Climate and Health Literacy Consortium’s tools and resources (

Related Posts:

6 Responses to AMA: Climate change is affecting the health of patients — and physicians are starting to see the results

  1. Peter M says:

    Had a friend here a few Sundays ago- had just returned from emergency medical in Manchester CT- Lyme disease, had the tick removed and put on anti biotics? But on March 20th?

    C02 last week 393.79ppm as measured in HI by the NOAA. Do we reach 395ppm this year?

  2. Mulga Mumblebrain says:

    Obviously the worthy medicos don’t understand capitalist economics. Ill-health is not just a misfortune, (for other people -hardly a matter of great concern)and, in any case, probably ‘God’s judgment’ on the individual or society, but also a business opportunity. The ‘medical-industrial complex’ of private insurance, private hospitals, BigPharma and wealthy physicians is one of the greatest sources of wealth that there is. A well-balanced investment portfolio would have both fossil fuel shares and those of private insurance and pharmaceuticals. Possibly a few tobacco shares, as Third World markets are booming. And, as we know from the bowdlerised versions of Adam Smith that represent the central tenets of our ‘Market’ religion, lots of rich, infinitely avaricious, self-seeking individuals acting out of ruthless self-interest, mysteriously produce the best possible outcomes. Just look at the world today, after barely forty years of neo-liberal magic.

  3. paulm says:

    And of course there is the mental aspects of this dreadful predicament.

    This will affect us all more and more…

  4. Leland Palmer says:

    Hi paulm-


    The medical profession will soon have to confront a new phenomenon- massive pragmatic depression. Reality based depression will likely soon become the new normal- especially if the methane hydrate dissociation of the East Siberian Arctic Shelf starts to truly run away, and it becomes apparent to billions of people that- in the immortal words of David Letterman- “we’re screwed”.

    The coming slow motion climate train wreck could result in the sadness of a doomed people becoming the new normal, IMO.

  5. I only know that twice in the past week, I’ve had to cancel appointments due to the inability to breath. There is no history here, so, I’m not sure what’s going on. Trip to the AMA coming up to find cause, Just afraid they’ll make more of it than it is, you know, opps you probably need to go to the emergncy room. I think not, just come by my house and do an air quality test please

  6. Solar Jim says:

    Leland and paulm,

    Yes, public psychological depression will be an unhealthy but natural response that will be labeled as a new “disease.” Doctors will attempt to manage personal consequences to planetary response based on natural laws (biogeochemistry) that are trending toward exponential, unsustainable public health impacts.

    Unless the true goals of health care practitioners affect direct engagement on issues of climate and energy policy, their long term goals will be irrelevant. Physicians for Social Responsibility, for example, have been indicating this for many years.

    “Unless we change the course we’re on we will end up where we are going.” Like Joe says, hell and high water. This along with numerous manifestations of depression, including global economic depression. The thundering hoofs of the Four Horsemen seem to be growing louder by the year. Yet petroleum, coal, fossil methane and uranium are resources of “energy,” aren’t they?