Applied and Environmental Science

Effect of Climate Change on Epidemics in China

After examining two millenia of data from China, a country that has a long history of recording significant biological, climatic, and social events, researchers from the Chinese Academy of Sciences and the University of Oslo in Norway noted a number of significant short-term and long-term effects they think will be useful for disease prevention.  Some of them, however, may apply only to China and other countries that have monsoons as part of their yearly cycle.

In the short term, droughts, floods, and a warmer climate increase disease prevalence, but in the long term, climate cooling causes more epidemics and other disasters.  Climate cooling weakens the monsoon, the several-month period of constant rainfall that sets up China’s water tables.  This produces droughts.  Droughts cause locust plagues that destroy agriculture and produce famines, and hungry people have weakened immunity and are more susceptible to disease and infections.

In the short term, the researchers found both positive and negative associations between warmer temperatures and epidemics and discovered no consistent relationship between the two phenomena.  Both long-term and short-term epidemic trends were closely and positively associated with floods, droughts, locust plagues, and famines.

The study was led by Zhibin Zhang in China and Nils Christian Stenseth in Norway and was based on A Compendium of Chinese Meteorological Records of the Last 3,000 Years.

For more information, contact Zhibin Zhang at