RACP sounds climate alert on Ross River virus

Global warming means Australia must be prepared for more outbreaks of vector-borne diseases such as Ross River virus that cause joint pains, rash and fever, the Royal Australasian College of Physicians warns.

The health impacts of climate change can no longer ignored and will require early warning systems for diseases such as dengue fever, say public health specialists from the RACP.

In a joint initiative between The MJAThe Lancet, the RACP and the Australia Medical Students’ Association (AMSA), clinicians say it is essential to track the progress of health and climate change in Australia to inform policy makers.

“The time of predictions is over. Climate change is here, and it is having significant impacts on the health and wellbeing of Australians”, says Dr David Harley, a researcher of mosquito-borne diseases and member of the College’s Climate Change and Health Reference Group.

“Our report shows that over the last twenty years, major Australian cities are nearly one degree warmer on average. These rising temperatures change patterns of infectious diseases, including mosquito-borne diseases.

“If Australia’s public health system is to deal with increasing outbreaks of mosquito-borne diseases like dengue fever or Ross River virus, we need to know about changes in incidence as soon as possible.”

“That’s why we’re calling for further investment in early warning systems, because we must understand the complex interaction between climate and vector-borne diseases and be able to respond to changes in incidence.”

The report also calls for governments to urgently decarbonise Australia’s energy sector, phase out coal-fired electricity generation, and address other impacts on health and wellbeing, such as mental health, respiratory and cardiovascular disease.

The RACP has been advocating for governments to treat Climate Change as a global public health emergency, issuing its most recent Climate Change and Health Position Statement in November 2016.

The full MJA-Lancet Countdown Report is available here.

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