NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Myth Of Global Warming And Disease

March 14, 1998

Some experts warn that man-made climate change may unleash a public-health disaster. They claim global warming has already caused malaria, dengue and yellow fever to invade higher latitudes in the temperate regions and higher altitudes in the tropics.

But Paul Reiter, a specialist in dengue fever with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, says in a recent letter in the British medical journal Lancet that such assertions ignore history. According to Reiter:

  • Until the 20th century, malaria was a common disease throughout much of the U.S. and remained endemic until the 1950s.
  • Yellow fever played a major part in U.S. history, and widespread epidemics of dengue were also common until the 1940s.
  • In Europe, yellow fever killed tens of thousands in many European countries until the end of the 19th century, and there were an estimated one million cases of dengue during a Greek epidemic in 1927-28.

In fact, epidemics of malaria have occurred as far north as Archangel on the Arctic Circle, says Reiter, and the disease remained endemic in such un-tropical countries as Holland, Poland and Finland until after World War II.

Claims that malaria and dengue have recently climbed to higher altitudes are also wrong, says Reiter; for instance, highland malaria was widespread in mountain ranges throughout the world -- from the Himalayas to the Andes -- until the era of the pesticide DDT and cheap preventative measures.

The true reasons for the resurgence of vector-borne diseases, concludes Reiter, include large-scale resettlement of people, rampant urbanization without adequate infrastructure, high mobility and air travel, the development of drug-resistant malaria and insects, and the deterioration of public health programs to control the spread of disease.

Source: Paul Reiter (National Center for Infectious Diseases), "Global-Warming and Vector-Borne Disease in Temperate Regions and at High Altitude," Lancet, March 14, 1998.


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