El Niño And Future Alert For Occurrence Of Diseases And Preventive Measures – OpEd


El Niño is expected to come back this year, which might cause the global average temperature to increase. The worldwide weather phenomena describe a period of hot Pacific Ocean waters. According to a report produced by the Global Information and Early Warning System (GIEWS) of the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) of the United Nations, Pakistan is one of the 20 countries at risk of experiencing excessive rainfall as the El Niño oceanographic phenomenon is forecast to return in June after three years of La Niña. Afghanistan, Argentina, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bangladesh, Iran, Iraq, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kyrgyzstan, Mexico, Pakistan, Paraguay, Syria, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, the United States, and Uzbekistan are among the nations in danger from extreme precipitation. 

El Niño events occur irregularly and can vary in timing and strength. They are influenced by complex oceanic and atmospheric interactions, making it challenging to predict their occurrence in advance accurately. Historically, El Niño events tend to peak during the late fall or winter months of the Northern Hemisphere, typically between October and February. However, it is essential to note that not all years within this time frame will necessarily experience an El Niño event.

The impacts of El Niño on air quality are just one factor among many influencing the overall air condition of an area. Local emissions, industrial activities, and other factors also significantly affect air pollution. El Niño events can indirectly affect an area’s overall ambient air condition, particularly in regions where air pollution is already a concern. These effects are primarily mediated through changes in weather patterns and atmospheric circulation. Here’s how El Niño can contribute to worsened air conditions:

Increased Wildfires: El Niño can influence the occurrence and severity of wildfires in certain regions. Changes in precipitation patterns associated with El Niño can result in drier conditions, leading to an increased risk of wildfires. These fires release large amounts of smoke and particulate matter into the air, significantly degrading air quality.

Changes in Atmospheric Circulation: El Niño can alter atmospheric circulation patterns, impacting air pollutants’ transport and dispersion. Changes in wind patterns can influence the movement of contaminants, leading to their accumulation and higher concentrations in specific areas, which can contribute to deteriorated air quality and increased levels of pollutants such as particulate matter and smog.

Temperature Inversions: During El Niño events, temperature inversions may occur more frequently. A temperature inversion is a phenomenon where a layer of warm air traps cooler air near the surface. This inversion layer can prevent the upward dispersion of pollutants, leading to the stagnation and accumulation of contaminants in the lower atmosphere, worsening air quality.

Dust Storms: El Niño can influence regional weather patterns, including dust storms. Changes in precipitation patterns and wind patterns can contribute to generating and transporting dust storms, particularly in arid and semi-arid regions. Dust storms introduce large amounts of particulate matter into the air, causing a decline in air quality.

It is important to note that the severity of air pollution during El Niño events can vary depending on the specific conditions and geographical location. The worst air conditions in history due to El Niño have been observed in regions already prone to air pollution, where the combination of increased wildfires, stagnant atmospheric conditions, and the transport of pollutants can lead to significant air quality deterioration. It is important to note that multiple factors above influence disease occurrence and spread, including local climate conditions, environmental factors, healthcare systems, and public health measures. While El Niño can contribute to these disease dynamics, it is often part of a more complex set of interactions that influence disease transmission patterns.

Vector-Borne Diseases: El Niño can impact the distribution and prevalence of vector-borne diseases like malaria, dengue fever, and Zika virus. Changes in temperature and rainfall patterns associated with El Niño can influence the breeding, survival, and behaviour of disease-carrying mosquitoes. For instance, increased rainfall followed by stagnant water can create favourable breeding conditions for mosquitoes, potentially leading to an upsurge in mosquito-borne diseases.

Waterborne Diseases: El Niño events can affect water availability, quality, and sanitation, which in turn can impact the transmission of waterborne diseases such as cholera, typhoid, and hepatitis A. Increased rainfall and flooding during El Niño can contaminate water sources, leading to a higher risk of waterborne disease outbreaks.

Foodborne Diseases: El Niño-induced changes in weather patterns can impact agricultural production and food security. Droughts or excessive rainfall can affect crop yields, food storage conditions, and safety practices. Poor food storage and handling practices during El Niño can increase the risk of foodborne diseases, such as salmonella and E. coli infections.

Respiratory Illnesses: El Niño can also influence respiratory illnesses, particularly in regions where air quality is already a concern. Changes in precipitation patterns can lead to variations in vegetation growth, which can subsequently impact pollen levels and respiratory allergies. Additionally, El Niño-induced changes in wind patterns can contribute to the transport and dispersion of air pollutants, exacerbating respiratory conditions.

El Niño events have been associated with the occurrence and spread of certain diseases in specific areas. While El Niño does not directly cause diseases, it can create conditions conducive to disease transmission or exacerbate existing disease patterns. Here are a few examples of illnesses that have been linked to El Niño in certain regions:

Malaria: El Niño can affect malaria transmission, particularly in endemic regions. Changes in temperature and rainfall patterns can impact mosquito populations and their breeding habitats. El Niño has been associated with increased malaria transmission in some areas due to changes in mosquito behaviour and longer survival rates. In history, following the 1997-1998 El Niño event, Peru experienced an upsurge in malaria cases. The increased rainfall and warmer temperatures created favourable breeding conditions for mosquitoes, leading to a rise in mosquito populations and subsequent malaria transmission.

Dengue Fever: El Niño events have been linked to increased dengue fever transmission in certain regions. The altered rainfall patterns and temperature fluctuations associated with El Niño can create favourable breeding conditions for Aedes mosquitoes, the primary vectors of dengue. This can lead to higher mosquito populations and increased risk of dengue transmission after El Nino Dengue Fever in Southeast Asia spread alarmingly in history. El Niño events have been associated with increased dengue fever transmission in countries like Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines. The warmer and wetter conditions during El Niño can facilitate mosquito breeding and accelerate the dengue virus replication, leading to higher infection rates.

Cholera: El Niño-related changes in rainfall and temperature can influence water availability and quality, impacting the spread of waterborne diseases like cholera. Increased flooding or drought conditions during El Niño events can disrupt water and sanitation systems, leading to increased risks of cholera outbreaks. During El Niño years, Bangladesh and other East African countries have observed spikes in cholera cases. Heavy rainfall, flooding, and inadequate sanitation infrastructure can contaminate water sources, increasing the risk of cholera outbreaks.

Hantavirus Pulmonary Syndrome: El Niño events have been associated with increased Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) cases in some regions. Hantaviruses are transmitted to humans through contact with infected rodents. El Niño can influence rodents’ vegetation growth and food availability, leading to increased interactions between rodents and humans and a potential increase in HPS cases. El Niño-related changes in vegetation and rodent populations have been linked to outbreaks of hantavirus pulmonary syndrome (HPS) in regions such as the Four Corners area of the southwestern parts of the United States. 

Rift Valley Fever in East Africa: El Niño events have been associated with increased outbreaks of Rift Valley Fever (RVF) in parts of East Africa. Heavy rainfall and flooding can create breeding grounds for mosquitoes and increase the population of disease-carrying vectors. This can result in the spread of RVF among livestock and humans.

To mitigate the potential health impacts of future El Niño events in South Asian countries like Pakistan, it is crucial to take proactive measures and implement appropriate preventive strategies. Here are some preventative measures that can be adopted to avoid diseases and infections associated with El Niño:

Strengthen Disease Surveillance: Enhance disease surveillance systems to monitor and detect disease pattern changes and promptly identify outbreaks. This includes establishing robust reporting mechanisms, improving diagnostic capabilities, and strengthening collaboration between healthcare providers, laboratories, and public health agencies.

Improve Vector Control: Implement comprehensive vector control programs to manage mosquito populations and reduce the risk of mosquito-borne diseases. This includes promoting community awareness about mosquito breeding sites, implementing effective insecticide-treated bed nets, and conducting targeted vector control activities in high-risk areas.

Enhance Water and Sanitation Infrastructure: Improve access to safe drinking water and proper sanitation facilities, particularly in vulnerable communities. This involves ensuring reliable water supply systems, promoting hygiene practices, and strengthening wastewater management to prevent waterborne diseases during increased rainfall or flooding.

Climate-Resilient Agriculture: Promote climate-resilient agricultural practices to minimize the impact of El Niño on food security and reduce the risk of water and foodborne diseases. This can include improved water management techniques, diversification of crops, and better post-harvest handling to maintain food safety.

Public Health Education and Awareness: Conduct public health campaigns to raise awareness about the health risks associated with El Niño and educate communities about preventive measures. Which includes disseminating information about disease prevention, promoting personal hygiene practices, and encouraging early seeking medical care in case of symptoms.

Strengthen Healthcare Infrastructure: Enhance healthcare infrastructure and capacity to respond effectively to disease outbreaks. This involves training healthcare workers, ensuring adequate medical supplies and facilities, and developing emergency contingency plans.

Collaborative Approaches: Foster collaboration between different sectors, including health, environment, agriculture, and disaster management, to address the multidimensional impacts of El Niño. Integrating climate resilience and health considerations into policies and strategies can involve interagency coordination, information sharing, and joint planning.

It is important to note that these measures should be implemented as part of an overall preparedness and response plan that considers the region’s specific context, resources, and needs. Collaboration between government authorities, international organizations, research institutions, and communities is essential to effectively mitigate the health risks associated with future El Niño events.

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