Author: Marcus R. Snodgrass

Heatwaves and Its Impact on Health

Climate change affects human health both directly (heat waves, extreme climatic events) and indirectly (forced migration, more time spent outdoors, increasing the use of cooling systems, etc.).

According to the climatecircus, climate change could cause 250,000 supplementary deaths every year from 2030, as a result of malnutrition, malaria, diarrhea and heatwaves. The health costs directly resulting from climate change are estimated for 2030 at 2 to 4 billion dollars per year.


Heatwaves have a very unfavorable impact on health due to skin dehydration, sun stings, and exhaustion. They lead to an increase in mortality and disease rates, especially among vulnerable groups (infants and young children, the elderly and top athletes). The extremely hot summer of 2003, for example, was responsible for around 20 to 30,000 supplementary deaths in Europe as a result of cardiovascular and/or lung diseases. If the anticipated increase in the frequency and intensity of heatwaves continues, this could cost many more people more lives in the coming decades.

Extreme climatic events such as floods, storms, fires and droughts also have a direct impact on health. The floods that affect millions of people every year in Europe have a wide range of consequences for human health: drowning, heart attacks, injuries, infections, psychosocial consequences, etc. As a result of climate change, these extreme events are likely to increase in frequency and intensity in the future .


But the indirect effects of climate change are probably even more important, especially with regard to:

  • water supply and food production: the risks of water shortages and lower agricultural yields can lead to dehydration and malnutrition.
  • the increase in vector-borne diseases due to the increasing spread of their disease spreaders: ticks, mosquitoes, sand flies, etc. Changes in the length of the seasons, precipitation, humidity and temperature can affect the spread and the chances of survival of both vectors and pathogens increase. Climate change is therefore likely to indirectly affect the reach of certain vectors of infectious diseases such as:
    • Lyme disease, which is transmitted by ticks. This disease is currently expanding in our regions, in Central Europe and in the Baltic States. Climate change is seen as the main cause for the spread to Northern Europe of a certain type of sign.
    • dengue or dengue fever , a viral disease transmitted by mosquitoes
    • bilharzia or schistosomiasis , where snails act as an intermediate host
    • malaria , by expanding the area of the mosquito species spreading this disease. It is possible that malaria will spread north of the Mediterranean Sea.
  • risks associated with deteriorating water quality (due to stronger growth of bacteria and toxic algae) and food poisoning: many diseases are contracted by contact with contaminated food or water (eg cholera and dysentery). Due to the rising water temperature, bacteria or algae that cause food poisoning are more likely to develop. With heavy precipitation, pathogenic substances can be released or the water can become contaminated by overflowing sewers. The reduction of the water flow in the summer can increase the risk of bacteriological and chemical contamination. Temperature sensitive infectious diseases such as food infections (Salmonella sp. And the like) will most likely increase.
  • the increase in tropospheric ozone concentrations in the summer (breathing difficulties). Excessive exposure to tropospheric ozone concentrations is responsible for an estimated 20,000 early deaths in Europe each year. A recent European study based on an IT model simulated the impact of climate change on air quality in 2010 and compared it with the reference year 1990. According to the researchers, ozone peaks will occur in large parts of Western Europe as a result of climate change, causing daily more people get sick and die.
  • the increase in allergic disorders: the temperature rise not only promotes a longer pollination time, but also the development of certain allergenic (and invasive) plants such as ambrosia. A rise in temperature combined with less precipitation as pollen spreads leads to higher concentrations of pollen in the air during the peak season.

However, the effects on public health will not be the same everywhere. As health and well-being are also closely linked to socio-economic factors (income, housing, employment, education, lifestyle, etc.), the effects of climate change are likely to exacerbate the unequal health situation in and between countries and the vulnerability of people with disabilities. limited income and certain groups such as children, people working outside the home, elderly or sick people.

Some positive effects are also possible, such as a slight decrease in the death rate due to the cold in certain regions, but they will be largely offset by the extent and severity of the negative effects.

Climate, sustainability and environment

We must prepare for the effects of climate change and environmental pollution on health. Research is needed for this. An example: the heat wave in the summer of 2018 caused a policy discussion about more green and water in the city. But more water may cause diseases due to rats and more green may result in more Lyme disease by ticks.

The most important effects of climate change and environmental pollution on health are in the areas of infectious diseases, food safety and security, skin cancer due to harmful UV radiation, allergies, heat in the city, flooding, lung problems (COPD) due to particulate matter and healthy living environment (water, greenery). It is unclear what the health effect of these components is separately and jointly. Funding for climate research is now insufficient and too fragmented. We want to fund research with a common goal on climate.

More sustainability in healthcare can contribute to a reduction in environmental pollution and negative climate effects. You can read more about the effect of microplastics on health on this page.

Microplastics & Health

The Microplastics & Health program aims to gain insight into the possible interaction and effects of small plastic particles on cell and organ levels in humans. This program is a collaboration between the top sectors Life Sciences & Health and Water and is organized in collaboration with NWO. There are 15 unique research projects in this world’s first scientific program on this subject on the effects of micro and nano plastics on our health. The first interim results will be presented on 3 October 2019 during a Plastic & Health conference in Amsterdam. The research program has an international program committee. The research was made possible through funding from NWO supported by the Life Sciences & Health top sector, Water top sector, the Gieskes-Strijbis Fund and the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management (I&W).sk

What is climate change?

Human activities influence the climate so that certain weather phenomena such as rain occur more often in Belgium and others such as snowless. The average temperature is higher than a few hundred years ago.

Health consequences?

Warm temperatures

It can get very hot during the summer. In the future, this will happen even more often due to climate warming. Certain regions have difficulty cooling, eg urban heat islands, areas with sandy soils, …
Unfortunately, high ambient temperatures bring a lot of health effects, especially with vulnerable groups such as the elderly, children, socially isolated people and the chronically ill. This can range from nuisance to even death .

Heat periods cause increased death rates. In the hot summer of 2003, mortality in 12 European countries was on average 7% higher than in the summer months in the reference period (1998-2002). The victims were mainly the elderly and socially isolated people.
More premature births occur during heat periods.
In addition to more periods with elevated temperatures, climate change also causes higher exposure to:


The concentrations of ozone, a health-damaging gas that we breathe in, can increase in the summer, which means that breathing difficulties can occur more often.


Global warming ensures that certain insects that can carry diseases can survive in our regions. Or native insects that occur in greater numbers due to climate change. Think, for example

  • ticks that spread Lyme disease among other things
  • mosquitoes that carry dengue (or dengue fever), malaria, chikungunya or West Nile virus

Extreme weather

Extreme weather conditions (storms, floods, etc.) have a direct impact on health. They can lead to drowning, heart attacks, injury, infections.. In addition, they also have an indirect impact because they can cause problems with a water supply and food production like nutritional deficiency. Not getting the right skin nutrients will make you look much older than you actually are. Your skin basically tells you if you get the right vitamins and minerals you need to look healthy.


Climate change has an effect on vegetation and the release of pollen. Concentrations of these allergens are often higher during warm periods. This will often increase the burden on people who are allergic to these substances.

Climate change greatest health hazard

Warmer and more extreme weather, linked to climate change is the greatest threat to public health on earth in the 21st century. That’s what doctors and researchers say in a report published in the British medical journal The Lancet.

Researchers come to the conclusion that storms, floods, natural fires, and particulate matter emissions are a direct and indirect threat to people’s health but also make areas uninhabitable, which can lead to major social problems.

The Lancet report, written by doctors, academics and policy experts from 27 organizations around the world, calls for rapid action to curb climate change and prepare healthcare for growing challenges.

“Rapid climate change has serious implications for every aspect of human life, exposing vulnerable populations to extreme weather conditions, infectious diseases and changing food security which would have effect on your skin appearance. The availability of safe drinking water and clean air is at risk, the report warns (ANP)