Coastal areas at highest risk
FRISCO — Public health researchers at the University of Maryland say a 10-year study shows a clear link between salmonella outbreaks and episodes of extreme heat and precipitation events.
With those conditions expected to increase in frequency and intensity due to climate change, the researchers say their findings can help guide public health strategies.
The study is the first to provide empirical evidence that Salmonella infections related to extreme weather events are disproportionately impacting those living in the coastal areas of Maryland.
“We found that extremely hot days and periods of extreme rainfall are contributing to Salmonella infections in Maryland, with the most dramatic impacts being seen in the coastal communities,” said Dr. Amir Sapkota, associate professor in the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health. “As we prepare for the future, we need to take this differential burden into account.”
Salmonella, a group of food- and waterborne bacteria, is commonly found in raw poultry, eggs, beef, and unwashed produce. Salmonella causes an estimated 1.2 million cases of acute gastroenteritis (aka “stomach flu,” with symptoms including diarrhea, fever, vomiting and abdominal cramps) in the United States each year.
In Maryland, more than 9,500 cases of Salmonella infections (confirmed by cultures) were reported to the health department between 2002 and 2012.
This new study identified extreme heat and precipitation events during 2002-2012 and linked them with the Salmonella infections data from the health department. The extreme events were identified using about 30 years of weather data (from 1960-1989) as the baseline.
The research team said the observed risk was considerably higher in coastal areas compared to non-coastal areas of Maryland.
Published in the interdisciplinary journal Environment International, the study highlights the need to engage public health practitioners and policy makers to prepare for and respond to climate change-associated adverse health effects at local, state, and national levels.