Potential Influence of Climate Change on Vector-borne and Zoonotic Diseases: A Review and Proposed Research Plan

James N. Mills; Kenneth L. Gage; Ali S. Khan


Environ Health Perspect. 2010;118(11):1507-1514. 

In This Article


Reliable data on the effects of climate change on VBZDs are scant. We have summarized the data from preliminary studies and used these data to extrapolate to logical conclusions concerning potential consequences of climate change on VBZDs. Nevertheless, these conclusions will remain speculative until tested by rigorous field and laboratory studies. We emphasize the importance of such studies and propose a series of goals that we believe would lead to improvements in our understanding of, and our ability to mitigate, the effects of climate change on VBZDs.

The goals of the actions outlined above are to form the multidisciplinary relationships that are need to conduct and interpret ecosystem-based studies of VBZD pathogens in host and vector populations; identify the hosts, vectors, and pathogens (likely to be largely tropical) with the greatest potential to affect human populations under climate change scenarios; and conduct studies that will increase our understanding of the four potential mechanisms by which climate change may affect VBZD incidence. The value of these studies is not limited to the context of climate change. We believe that most, if not all, of these goals are important in their own right and should be undertaken regardless of the additional urgency added by the unknown effects of climate change. The goals we propose are broad and general. For each of these goals, a research plan with specific objectives, methods, and deliverables should be developed. Such research plans will be most effectively conceived in a multidisciplinary environment where experts in ecology, wildlife and vector biology, and public health sit together at the planning table. The requirements for multiinstitutional and multidisciplinary studies are important. Understanding and mitigating the effects of VBZDs cannot be accomplished by the public health community without the collaboration of ecologists and wildlife biologists.

The primary focus of our proposals is discovering and predicting the consequences of climate change on VBZDs and driving public health action for the development of more effective disease-prevention strategies. We are not the first to suggest research goals to address the understanding and mitigation of climate change effects on VBZDs and other infectious diseases. However, for many aspects there is a clear convergence of conclusions and research recommendations (see, for example, National Research Council 2001; Semenza and Menne 2009). The sooner these studies are undertaken, the sooner intervention strategies can be developed and instituted.


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