Climate Change (Public Health, State of the South West 2011)
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"The term 'climate change' usually refers to man-made changes that have occurred since the early 1900s. While there are noticeable highs and lows in year to year data, over longer periods of time there is a discernible warming
trend across the globe. Natural causes can explain only a small part of this warming. Theoverwhelming majority of scientists agree that this is due to rising concentrations of heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere caused by human activities" (source: Met Office).
A report by the South East Regional Public Health Group, 'The Health Impact of Climate Change', published in 2008, finds that: the NHS has started to predict the likely impacts on health from climate change and has outlined these in 'Health effects of climate change in the UK 2008: an update of the Department of Health report 2001/2002.' Public safety advice concerning severe weather is available from the Met Office.
8.4.1 Heat waves are projected to become more frequent. Following the August 2003 heat wave, during which an excess 2,000 deaths occurred in England and Wales, a 'heat-health watch' now operates from June to September.
This includes alerts from the Met Office to the NHS and care homes when forecasts show high temperature thresholds will be exceeded. On Sunday 11th August 2003 the temperature in Gravesend in Kent reached 38.1C (100.6F), the highest recorded UK temperature since 1875. The previous record high temperature was in 1990 in Cheltenham, Gloucestershire when it reached 37.1C (98.8F) (source: BBC News).
8.4.2 If summers become sunnier, increased exposure to ultra-violet (UV) radiation could lead to an increase in the incidence of and mortality from malignant melanoma of the skin: see 188.8.131.52 and the SWPHO Skin Cancer Hub website.
8.4.3 Each year there are approximately 70,000 reported cases of food poisoning in England and Wales. There is a seasonal summer increase associated with barbeques, poor food hygiene and improperly cooked food rather than an increase in temperature per se (source: Health Protection Agency (HPA)). Norovirus infections however can occur at anytime of the year, but are sometimes referred to as 'winter vomiting disease' because people often suffer from these infections during the winter months. Bivalves such as oysters can be contaminated with the norovirus, with higher rates of detection of the virus occurring between October and March (source: HPA).
8.4.4 Despite a discernible warming trend across the globe, we are, as recent events have shown, also susceptible to extremes in rainfall and cold weather, and the consequences can be severe.
8.4.5 "Residents rescued from homes as floods hit Cornwall" (source: Guardian.co.uk 17th November, 2010).
8.4.6 Colder weather affects mortality, particularly amongst the elderly. In 2008/09 there were an estimated 3,800 excess winter deaths in the South West, of which almost two-thirds occurred in those aged 85 years and older (source: SWPHO). Excess winter mortality, however, can vary from year to year. All-age excess winter deaths in the South West in 2009/10 numbered 2,700 with a lower proportion in those aged 85 years and older than in 2008/09 (source: ONS). Towards the latter part of 2010, many parts of the UK experienced severe weather conditions: temperatures fell to -11C in parts of Somerset during December (source: BBC News, 3rd December, 2010); and "November  saw the UK's most widespread snowfall since 1965, and December has continued to be exceptionally cold and snowy." (source: BBC Weather). It remains to be seen what impact this spell of cold weather will have on mortality.