Research: Climate change drives rise in food poisoning

By Stephen C. Webster
Monday, July 23, 2012 9:36 EDT
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A woman experiences stomach pain. Photo: Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.
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Research published Sunday in the scientific journal Nature Climate Change claims that warning sea levels in the Baltic Sea are strongly linked to recent blooms of the Vibrios bacteria group, which have corresponded with an uptick in humans reporting foodborne illnesses in northern Europe.

And while the study notes that the Baltic Sea is “the fastest warming marine ecosystem examined so far anywhere on Earth,” scientists also found that other temperate and even cooler regions, like Peru, Chile, Israel, the U.S. Pacific northwest and northwest Spain, have all seen growth in Vibrios infections after warmer weather.

But in the Baltic, scientists found their strongest evidence: tracing satellite data tracking sea levels, and medical data tracking Vibrios infections, the scientists found that in warmer years the number of infections spiked as much as 200 percent.

Vibrios bacteria can incubate in seafood like shellfish and plankton and tend to cause a variety of illnesses, from the relatively common gastroenteritis, or inflammation that causes vomiting and diarrhea, to the horrifying pain of cholera, which can reach epidemic levels if not properly treated by medical professionals.

Because projected warning trends would seem to indicate the likelihood of booming Vibrio populations along European coastal areas in the coming decades, scientists recommend development of new reporting systems across Europe to track outbreaks of Vibrio infections and correlations with local climate. Development of such systems could help scientists predict the global spread of other diseases similarly influenced by weather systems.

“Focussing efforts on areas with high population density, for example St. Petersburg, Stockholm and the southern Baltic coastline, and expanding the risk analysis to other regions undergoing rapid warming such as the Pacific northwest, the Sea of Okhotsk and the East China Sea may represent the most fruitful approach to predict areas where new Vibrio infections are likely to emerge,” they wrote.

Photo: Shutterstock.com, all rights reserved.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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