Climate Change & Health
Climate change is already affecting human health and disease in many ways. In Colorado, some of the top concerns are health consequences related to rising temperatures, air pollution, wildfires, extreme weather and spread of disease from animals and insects. There are steps we can all take now to reduce climate change-related impacts on our health.
Who is at greatest risk?
While climate change affects everyone, some people are at a greater risk for health problems than others. This includes:
- Older adults
- Communities of color
- People with disabilities
- People who are poor
- People who live alone
- People with existing medical conditions such as heart disease or asthma
What's changing, and what can you do?
Higher heat, increased humidity and longer and more frequent heat waves can lead to dehydration and heat stroke. Rising temperatures can also disrupt our food and water supply, which can lead to hunger and malnutrition.
- Stay hydrated. Drink plenty of water, especially when it is hot.
- Stay cool. Stay indoors when it is hot, or find places to cool off, such as a local mall, a library or a cooling center. Plan ahead and make sure your air conditioners and fans are up-to-date.
- Check on family and friends. Keep a list of family, friends and neighbors to check on during an extreme heat event.
- Find out if you qualify for food assistance. Contact JCPH to learn about SNAP, WIC and other programs.
Increased smoke from wildfires, smog, pollen and mold can lead to asthma and allergy attacks.
- Sign up for air quality alerts from JCPH. When ozone levels are high, stay indoors if you have asthma, heart problems or other risk factors. Get timely updates here: https://www.jeffco.us/List.aspx.
- Walk, bike or carpool whenever possible. Combine trips. Use buses, the light rail system or other alternatives to driving your car to help reduce ozone in the air.
- Avoid exercising outdoors when the air is bad. Instead, walk indoors in a shopping mall or gym or use an exercise machine. Limit the amount of time your child spends playing outdoors when the air is bad, too.
High temperatures, strong winds and dry conditions lead to more frequent and more severe wildfires. In addition to destroying homes and displacing families, fine particulates in wildfire smoke can penetrate deep into the lungs, increasing the risk of significant health problems.
- Evacuate immediately if authorities tell you to do so. It’s important to have an evacuation plan before an emergency occurs. Don’t forget to have a plan for your pets, too.
- If you are not ordered to evacuate but smoky conditions exist, stay inside in a safe location or go to a community building where smoke levels are lower. Close windows and doors to reduce exposure to smoke.
- Always obey fire restrictions and bans. Find up-to-date information here: https://www.jeffco.us/511/Fire-Restrictions-Bans.
Increased frequency and severity of heavy downpours, floods, droughts and major storms can lead to injury, illness, displacement, stress and mental health problems and death.
- Make a family plan. Talk to all family members, including children. Figure out where in your house — or your community — you would gather during an extreme weather event.
- Know your neighbors. Your neighbors can be your best support system, and you can help neighbors who may need assistance. Talk with them about how you can work together — who might need help evacuating? Does anyone have health issues to consider?
- Make an emergency preparedness kit. Suggestions on what to include in your kit can be found at https://www.ready.gov/colorado.
- Know your signs of stress, and ask for help if you need it. Seek professional help when symptoms are disrupting your day-to-day activities.
Spread of Disease
Higher temperatures, changes in rain patterns and disrupted ecosystems spread diseases carried by insects, ticks and rodents. These changes can also contaminate our food and water.
- Prevent insect bites. Use insect repellent with DEET, wear long sleeves and pants and check carefully for ticks after being outdoors in wooded or grassy areas, especially in the summer.
- Avoid contact with rodents and droppings. Keep your home, cabin or outbuildings free of mice and rats. Take precautions when cleaning up dead rodents and droppings.
- Know home food safety basics. Cook food to the right temperature, clean hands and surfaces often, chill food promptly and separate raw meats from other foods.
- JCPH: How Climate Change Affects Your Health & What You Can Do
- Jefferson County Community Health Needs Assessment: Climate Change
- Colorado Health Institute: Health and Climate Index
- Colorado Health Institute: Colorado's Climate and Colorado's Health
- CDC: Climate and Health
- Fourth National Climate Assessment: Chapter 14: Human Health
- APHA: Climate Change