The higher temperatures and heavier rainfall events expected to result from climate change may increase the occurrence of water-borne diseases, with overflow of sanitation services contributing to potential contamination of municipal water supplies. These conditions may also contribute to increases in infectious illnesses in people using recreational waters. Food-related concerns include outbreaks of toxic algae in saltwater which can contaminate shellfish, and increased incidence of food poisoning related to warmer temperatures that increase the survival of microbes in the environment.
The network recognizes that interdisciplinary approaches are required to address the complex problems associated with research on infectious diseases and climate change. Researchers will need to be trained in interdisciplinary approaches. Research networks linking this relatively small research community are vital to creating the critical mass needed to accomplish the research.
Within this field, there is inadequate research in food- and water-borne contaminants and diseases, particularly research that captures the ecology of disease from the environmental source to the human case of the disease. As a result, it is very difficult to identify where and how a change in climatic conditions might alter the hazards posed by these diseases. Some aspects getting very little attention include impacts of climate variability and change on estuarine water quality and the implications for health; fungal diseases and vulnerability to climate variability and change; global climate change and human health risks associated with imported food and livestock; and long term temperature and concurrent rainfall increases on exotic water- and food-borne diseases such as cholera and cyclospora.
The network has identified a number of specific areas where new research is required to address knowledge gaps in the area of water- and food-borne contamination. These include investigations into the role of climate in watersheds and in the contamination of water, and the role of climate on survival and transmission of pathogens in transportation of livestock and food processing. More research is required on the subject of climate impacts on toxic substances in food and water, as well as climate impacts on non-treated water (e.g. private wells, beaches) and health.
There is an immediate need to develop a process for rapid detection of contaminants and source identification, in order to respond quickly to climate-related contamination. It is also important to understand the factors contributing to individual, population, ecosystem, and infrastructural vulnerabilities to infectious diseases in the face of climate change, and to assess ways to encourage changes in behaviour aimed at reducing vulnerability to food-borne illness particularly as it relates to cultural, social, and societal preferences and food handling and processing norms.
Led by Dr. David Waltner-Toews at the University of Guelph, this three year collaborative project is investigating the incidence of water-borne illnesses in Canada, describing the complex systemic inter-relationships between disease incidence, weather parameters, and water quality and quantity, and projecting the potential impact of global climate change.
Following a detailed review of the existing state of knowledge nationally and internationally, and the digitization and linkage of the necessary data, the association between weather parameters and water-borne illnesses in Canada will be described. A few regions will be selected for a more detailed risk factor analysis.
This work, due to be completed in April 2005, will help identify vulnerable Canadian regions, watersheds and communities at increased risk of water-borne diseases. With this information, Canadian policy makers will be better informed of the risks to Canadians and of the potential impacts of global climate change on those risks. This will enable the implementation of targeted monitoring, development of adaptive strategies, and emergency response plans to better protect Canadians from water-borne illness.
For more information, visit: Eccho Database Project
A Synopsis of Known and Potential Diseases and Parasites Associated with Climate Change. Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources. Ontario Forest Research Institute. Sault Ste. Marie, ON. Forest Research Information Paper No. 154. 2003