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Can extreme weather trigger relapse to infectious diseases? A malaria case study in Sweden

Authors Tzu Tung Chen
Hans W. Linderholm
Published in TRACE 2019 (Tree Rings in Archaeology, Climatology and Ecology)
Publication year 2019
Published at Department of Earth Sciences
Language en
Keywords malaria, infectious disease, OWDA, summer temperature, tree ring
Subject categories Climate Research, History of science


Although previous studies have revealed the health impacts associated with inter-annual climate variability (such as El Niño) due to abnormal meteorological conditions, our understanding of climate change impacts on human health remains largely unknown. Malaria was one of the most common disease in the 1800’s in northern Europe, and it is still highly prevalent in many countries, posing a significant threat to the public health. The most severe year of malaria epidemic in Sweden, 1860, was reported as having approximately 3,000 malaria cases to total 30,000 inhabitants in Gothenburg. However, it is difficult to draw robust inferences about climate-related health impacts of malaria due to the complexity of many covarying social variables (e.g. housing conditions, war, population movement) and the lack of reliable data on diseases. The aim of this study is to assess the influence of climate change (warming and extreme weather) on the reoccurring frequency, time of onset, duration and intensity of malaria outbreaks during the 18th century in Sweden, using tree-ring based hydroclimate reconstruction OWDA (Old World Drought Atlas) network and reconstructed summer temperatures. Tree-ring data can be useful for investigating annual spatial and temporal variability in climate of the study area. Thus, it offers great possibilities to look at climate-disease correlations, to see if the change in humidity and temperature would have altered the catchiness or spreading pattern of such vector-borne disease.

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