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Report: Hoosier Health May Be Impacted By Climate Change

Among other health issues, Hoosier Health in a Changing Climate predicts an increase in mosquito-borne diseases.

The health of Hoosiers may be impacted as the climate continues to change, according to a new report that examines how environmental trends, including continued warming, could impact health statewide.

Indiana’s annual average temperature has risen by 2 degrees Fahrenheit since 1960. A new report, Hoosiers' Health in a Changing Climate, studied the potential for statewide warming trends to negatively impact the health of people in Indiana. It is the first to look at Indiana specifically.

The report is the latest in a series from the Purdue Climate Change Research Center. Heat and reduced air quality make people more prone to developing respiratory and cardiovascular conditions like asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and some populations are affected more than others. Often, said study co-author and IUPUI earth sciences Professor Gabriel Filippelli, warmer temperatures impact low-income Hoosiers first.

"These vulnerable populations are those who suffer what we call the cumulative impacts of heat stress and it ends up sending them to the hospital if they are lucky enough to have access to that," Filippelli said. 

Researchers say older people and children are also among the populations that are particularly vulnerable to changes in the climate. The report also found people in urban areas may be more susceptible to heating trends.

While the report does show fewer people will die from cold extremes, it also shows the flip side, Filippelli said.

"More will die of heat extreme events than we will save via warmer winters," Filippelli said. The report cites research that suggests temperature-related deaths in Indiana could double by the middle of the 21st century.  

In addition researchers also considered the impact that humidity and tropical-like conditions will have on the populations of disease-spreading insects. On top of a growing tick population, which has the potential to spread infections like Lyme disease, mosquito populations have risen 500 percent in Indianapolis over the last 30 years, the report says. As a result, researchers predict an increase in mosquito-borne diseases, Filippelli said.   

"Things like West Nile virus as well as things like malaria and dengue fever which are tropical diseases, we will likely begin to see them here," says Filippelli. 

The paper makes recommendations that could inform policy decisions and individual choices, including choices about carbon emissions reduction and mosquito control.