Climate change may increase spread of common bowel disease

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A groundbreaking study from the University of Surrey, published in PLOS Computational Biology, links weather factors—temperature, day length, and humidity—to the spread of campylobacteriosis, a common diarrheal illness.

This research is significant as it could aid in predicting future outbreaks, allowing for better preparedness within health services.

Led by Dr. Giovanni Lo Iacono, the study focused on the impact of weather on the transmission of campylobacteriosis, a bacterial infection causing diarrhea and stomach pains.

The World Health Organization cites Campylobacter infections as the leading cause of human bacterial gastroenteritis globally. While usually mild, these infections can be severe in young children, the elderly, and people with weakened immune systems.

Dr. Lo Iacono, a Senior Lecturer in Biostatistics and Epidemiology at the University of Surrey, emphasized the historical consensus on weather influencing disease spread. His team aimed to understand specific environmental factors driving this phenomenon.

The research involved analyzing data from around 1 million campylobacteriosis cases in England and Wales over two decades.

By developing an innovative mathematical model, the team compared this data with weather parameters from the Met Office.

Key findings revealed that campylobacteriosis incidences were consistent below 8°C. However, infections sharply increased with every 5° rise in temperature between 8°C and 15°C. High humidity levels (75% to 80%) also correlated with more infections.

Notably, longer day lengths (over 10 hours), especially when combined with high humidity, were linked to increased illness cases. Rainfall and wind speed showed no strong connection to the disease’s spread.

Dr. Lo Iacono suggested that rising temperatures, humidity, and longer days might facilitate the survival and spread of bacteria, or they might influence human behavior and social patterns, affecting disease transmission.

Highlighting the broader implications, he stated, “Climate change not only has an environmental impact but also affects our health by aiding the spread of infectious diseases.”

Gordon Nichols, a visiting Professor at the University of Surrey, added that environmental data are crucial for understanding complex disease spread patterns.

Such knowledge can identify areas at risk of outbreaks, ensuring resource availability for treatment and containment.

This study sheds light on the intricate relationship between weather conditions and the spread of infectious diseases, offering valuable insights for public health strategies in a changing climate.

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The research findings can be found in PLOS Computational Biology.

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