How climate change could change the way we die

Global warming of 1.5 ° C could cause 1,603 additional deaths from injuries each year in the United States, an international team of researchers reported in the journal yesterday. Natural medicine. They calculated the number of deaths from 2 ° C of warming in 2,135 deaths related to excess injuries annually.

So far, most studies on the effects of climate change on health have focused on deaths from insect-borne diseases, heart and respiratory conditions and the direct effects of heat. But it is known that deaths from various types of injuries vary by season. Therefore, it is logical to think that changes in the weather could also alter these patterns.

The researchers extracted 38 years of data from the US government. UU. On weather conditions and deaths from injuries in the United States (excluding Alaska and Hawaii). They calculated the average temperature in each month of the year for each state from 1980 to 2017. They identified the months in which the temperature was warmer than the average in a given state, and compared the injury death rate during these months with the rate of background lesions deaths

This allowed them to calculate how injury mortality could change if the average temperatures in all states increase year-round by 1.5 or 2 ° C, the benchmarks established in the Paris Agreement.

The number of excess deaths by 2 ° C of warming, 2,135, represents 1% of all deaths from injuries in 2017. It is likely that California, Texas and Florida have the highest number of these deaths.

The researchers analyzed data on injuries caused by traffic accidents and other forms of transportation, falls, drowning, assault and suicide, which together account for about three quarters of deaths from injuries in the United States.

They found that the highest number of excess deaths is probably due to traffic accidents, followed by suicide. The largest proportional increase is projected to drown, while smaller proportional increases are projected for assault and suicide.

“Of the excess deaths, 84% would occur in men and 16% in women,” the researchers write. “Of all the excess male deaths, 92% would occur in those aged 15 to 64, who have higher rates of transport and suicide deaths.”

Meanwhile, these increases would be partially offset by a decrease in deaths from falls in middle-aged and elderly people during the winter months.

Drowning can increase during an unusually warm weather because more people are going to swim. Deaths due to traffic accidents can increase because higher temperatures tend to generate more general traffic (at least in North America), erosion of driving skills and increased alcohol consumption. And it is possible that the greater time spent outside combined with greater irritability in warm temperatures could increase confrontations and, therefore, assault injuries, while the increase in suicides could be rooted in a possible increase in emotional distress among young people associated with high temperatures.

However, some of these connections are tentative and more research will be needed to resolve cause and effect relationships. Future research should also analyze how infrastructure, socioeconomic and racial disparities affect the risk of death from injuries in an unusually warm climate, the researchers say.

Although the predicted increases in injury deaths are relatively modest, the research focuses on how many unexpected risks climate change poses. And they could add small increases in deaths from injuries: injuries are responsible for 9% of deaths worldwide, and most of the burden falls on low-income countries that are most vulnerable to the effects of climate change and less responsible for their causes.

“These new results show how much climate change can affect young people,” Majid Ezzati study leader of Imperial College London said in a statement. “We need to respond to this threat with better preparedness in terms of emergency services, social support and health warnings.”

For example, officials could design public health messages specifically aimed at young men who warn of the risks of traffic accidents and drowning, and implement additional blood alcohol level checkpoints on the roads during warm weather.

Source: Parks R.M. et al. “Abnormally warm temperatures are associated with increased deaths from injuries.” Natural medicine 2020

Image: Banksy illustrations; Photo via Wikimedia Commons.

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