Disease expert hits global-warming link; Sees no rise in mosquito-borne illnesses

By Ruth Larson
Copyright 1998 Washington Times
July 29, 1998

       An infectious-disease specialist said yesterday that global warming, even if true, would not likely cause deadly mosquito-borne illnesses to spread to the United States as some environmentalists and scientists have predicted.

Paul Reiter, chief of entomology at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), has spent his career traveling the world investigating outbreaks of diseases such as malaria and yellow fever, which are spread by mosquitoes.

In a briefing to congressional staffers, Mr. Reiter concluded, "Global warming is unlikely to give rise to major epidemics of mosquito-borne diseases in the United States unless conditions deteriorate drastically."

He said predictions of such epidemics are simply misguided and alarmist because, short of a total collapse of society, modern living conditions limit the spread of these illnesses.

Mr. Reiter pointed out that normal summer temperatures in this country are often hotter than those in tropical regions, where these diseases are common. He said the mere presence of such mosquitoes, many of which are native to the United States, does not mean that the maladies will be transmitted.

Innovations such as insect screens, air conditioning, and well-constructed homes and office buildings now keep mosquitoes away from people. Anti-malarial drugs and vaccinations against yellow fever have further reduced the spread of these diseases.

Thus, even if the climate were to heat up, the factors necessary for an epidemic are no longer present, he said.

Mr. Reiter's presentation was organized by the Cooler Heads Coalition, a group of 23 nonprofit and pro-market organizations concerned that global warming policies could harm consumers far more than global warming itself.

Mr. Reiter said he was "quite appalled" that individuals with no qualifications in the field of infectious diseases are predicting that global warming will cause the mosquitoes and the diseases they carry to spread to the United States.

"I'm not a rocket scientist, and I'm not a brain surgeon," Mr. Reiter said. "But it's been quite astonishing how many rocket scientists and brain surgeons

are involved in statements about mos-

quito-borne diseases."

For example, the Environmental Protection Agency's global warming Web site says, "The geographic range and life-cycles of pathogens and vectors (e.g., mosquitoes) which transmit disease are affected by climate. Climate change would, in aggregate, increase the potential transmission of many vector-borne diseases."

Mr. Reiter said he was concerned that attention was being diverted from the important tasks of controlling and preventing the diseases, and instead focused on "blaming it on the weather."

He said another fallacy is that these "tropical" diseases never have affected northern regions. Chaucer and Shakespeare wrote about malaria, then known as ague, in England and Scotland. Malaria has been known as far north as the Soviet Union and Scandinavia.

The United States has seen dozens of epidemics, most in the 1700s and 1800s. A yellow fever epidemic in Memphis, Tenn., in 1878 infected 19,000 people and almost destroyed the city. An estimated 20,000 people died of yellow fever nationwide that year.

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