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Global Warming Tied to Spike in Malaria Cases

Update Date: Mar 07, 2014 11:39 AM EST

Malaria, which is caused by a parasite carried by mosquitoes, is a disease that leads to severe symptoms such as high fevers, flu-like symptoms, shaking chills, and anemia. Even though malaria has been considered eliminated in some countries, the disease is still greatly afflicting poorer areas particularly in South America and Africa. In a new study, researchers reported that as the temperature continues to get warmer, cases of malaria could be expected to soar.

"The impact in terms of increasing the risk of exposure to disease is very large," Professor and study researcher Mercedes Pascual, from the University of Michigan, said according to BBC News. "The risk of the disease decreases with altitude and this is why historically people have settled in these higher regions."

For this study, Pascual and colleagues examined the densely populated regions in the highlands of Colombia and Ethiopia. The researchers knew that areas at higher altitudes tend to be safe from malaria due to the lower temperatures that are not ideal for mosquitoes. The team looked at recorded temperatures and malaria cases from 1990 through to 2005 in Colombia and from 1993 to 2005 in Ethiopia. They discovered that during the years with warmer temperatures, there were more cases of malaria in these highland regions. During the years with cooler temperatures, malaria cases were more concentrated in the lower areas of the country.

"This is indisputable evidence of a climate effect," said Pascual according to the AFP. "The main implication is that with warmer temperatures, we expect to see a higher number of people exposed to the risk of malaria in tropical highland areas like these."

She added, "We have estimated that, based on the distribution of malaria with altitude, a 1C [33.8 degrees Fahrenheit] rise in temperature could lead to an additional three million cases in under-15-year-olds per year."

The team reasoned that if global warming continues to lead to higher temperatures, people who live in higher elevations who were never really at risk for malaria would be within the future. In order to prevent more cases of malaria, these areas might have to implement better ways of preventing the spread of the disease. The researchers added that even though they focused on two regions, other countries, such as Peru, Ecuador, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Madagascar, Pakistan, India, Nepal and Papua New Guinea could be negatively affected by temperature changes as well.

In 2012, malaria was tied to an estimated 620,000 deaths. The study was published in Science.

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