Climate change: it’s not just about rising oceans. According to new research from the University of East Anglia (UEA), action on climate change could help avoid millions of cases of dengue fever. If we limited global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius — a Paris Agreement target — we might be able to avoid around 3.3 million cases annually of the tropical disease in the Caribbean and Latin America alone.

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There are around 54 million cases of dengue fever, caused by a mosquito-spread virus, in the Caribbean and Latin America every year, and approximately 390 million people are infected worldwide. But by around 2050, in a 3.7 degrees Celsius warming scenario, this number could increase by 7.5 million additional cases a year. While dengue fever is only fatal in rare cases, a specific treatment does not exist, and symptoms include headaches, muscle and joint pain, and fever.

Related: Climate change could reverse all reductions in child mortality over the last 25 years

But if we take action against global warming, we might be able to prevent millions of cases, according to UEA’s research, which drew on computer models and clinical and laboratory-confirmed reports of dengue fever in Latin America. Keeping warming to two degrees Celsius could lower cases by as many as 2.8 million per year by 2100, and keeping warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius could see an extra drop of half a million cases a year.

Lead researcher Felipe Colón-González of UEA said, “While it is recognized that limiting warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius would have benefits for human health, the magnitude of these benefits remains mostly unquantified. This is the first study to show that reductions in warming from two degrees Celsius to 1.5 degrees Celsius could have important health benefits.”

Co-author Carlos Peres of UEA said, “Our economic projections of the regional health costs of climate change show that developing nations will bear the brunt of expanding arbovirus infections, so a preventative strategy in reducing greenhouse gas emissions sooner rather than later is the most cost-effective policy.”

The journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences published the research this week; researchers from Universidade do Estado de Mato Grosso in Brazil contributed.

+ University of East Anglia

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