Climate Change and Respiratory Health

Current Evidence and Knowledge Gaps

Tim K Takaro; Kim Knowlton; John R Balmes


Expert Rev Resp Med. 2013;7(4):349-361. 

In This Article

Disease & Natural Cycles Research Needs

"Whoever wishes to investigate medicine properly, should proceed thus: in the first place to consider the seasons of the year, and what effects each of them produces, for they are not all alike, but differ much from themselves in regard to their changes"
– Hippocrates. [113]

Seasonality is a characteristic of many respiratory diseases, most frequently influenza epidemics.[114,115] Such diseases that vary seasonally demonstrate some form of climatic dependence and are most likely to be influenced by climate change and variability.[116–118] Furthermore, in depth understanding of past and current seasonal variation in illness incidence can provide a baseline for future studies to identify early impacts of climate change on health.[119] Our understanding of seasonal patterns in respiratory disease and even infections is rudimentary; however, and we have not parsed the role of temperature, humidity crowding, vector biology or ecology,[120] or much less the combination of these plus other environmental factors such as forest fire or drought-related increases in desert PM, O3, pollen, mold, heat or other potentially climate related exposures. It is clear that infectious disease ranges are shifting with increasing temperatures into higher latitudes and elevation,[10] but the impacts on human health, given complex interactions with other dynamic social and biological systems, and the interventions that might be successful in mitigating these impacts, are largely unknown and a rich area for future research.