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The Asian tiger mosquito can spread dengue fever, among other things

Photo: Roger Eritja / IMAGO

At high temperatures, some pathogens and their vectors feel particularly comfortable - such as bacteria, mosquitoes and ticks. This could become a problem for the health of the population in Germany, as a report published on Thursday by the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) shows.

This is because global warming is causing some bacterial pathogens to multiply in this country and for animals that transmit infectious diseases to spread. According to the report, this increases the risk of infectious diseases. "We are facing a really big challenge, also for our health care system," said co-author Elke Hertig on Wednesday at the presentation of the results.

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The publication is the first part of the three-part assessment report "Climate Change and Health" coordinated by the RKI and has been published in the "Journal of Health Monitoring". The remaining two parts are to be published later this year. Numerous scientists were involved in the report and compiled the current state of knowledge on the possible effects of climate change on human health.

Rising temperatures are already favoring the spread of some animals that are atypical in Germany, said co-author Klaus Stark. "Certain new tick species are advancing into Germany," said the RKI epidemiologist. For example, the Hyalomma tick, which, according to Stark, did not occur in Germany until a few years ago and can transmit bacterial pathogens from typhus. "In recent years, there have been clear trends that some climate-sensitive pathogens have increased."

More heat waves, more antibiotic resistance

The Asian tiger mosquito will also occur more frequently in Germany – it can pass on pathogens of dengue fever and yellow fever or the Zika virus to humans. "That doesn't mean that we're going to have immediate transmission cases in Germany in the next year or two." However, he could not rule this out.

In addition, according to the authors, climate change entails numerous other risks – for example, through an increase in bacterial resistance or the proliferation of vibrios in water. These include, for example, the bacterium Vibrio vulnificus, which occurs naturally in seawater and brackish water – increasingly at temperatures above around 20 degrees.

Even through very small wounds, these pathogens can penetrate the skin, as Stark explains. "In older people or people with a weakened immune system, these infections can lead to severe wound infections or severe blood poisoning, which must be treated quickly with antibiotics," says the RKI expert. If treatment is not immediate, people could die from the infection.

According to the report, heat waves may also increasingly pose a serious health risk in the future. Older people and people with pre-existing conditions are particularly at risk, said Elke Hertig. Currently, there are two to three heat waves a year in Germany. Depending on the progress of global warming, there could be up to four or even six heat waves per year by the end of the century. Last year, heat waves caused about 4500 deaths in this country, according to RKI data.

According to Hertig, in order to reduce climate-related health risks for people in Germany in the future, it is important that the population reacts to climate change, among other things by informing themselves or protecting themselves through vaccinations. On the other hand, an attempt must be made to keep global warming as low as possible. Because: "Climate protection is the most effective health protection," the scientist summed up.