HSE warns of health risks as temperatures increase
A rise in water-borne diseases including e-coli and cryptosporidium, increased risk of deaths in summer and winter and the arrival of invasive species to Ireland are all being flagged as possible health risks in an Ireland impacted by climate change.
The HSE is compiling datasets on public health risks to protect the population, specialist Dr Ina Kelly said, with internal risks from rising temperatures and risks posed by holidaymakers returning home being taken into account.
Dr Kelly, who is based at the HSE's Department of Public Health and who sits on the adaptation committee of the Climate Change Advisory Council, said health bosses were preparing for all eventualities.
"Water and food-borne illness is an issue," she said. "You can have pathogens which could survive winter better than they might have done in the past. An organism which may have lasted for 10 days in the past, may survive for 20 days. They may contaminate water.
"The food risk is food which isn't cooked. It's more likely to be contaminated by environmental organisms, especially if the food is washed from a well which is flooded. We don't have mosquitoes which can carry and transmit malaria and dengue fever at the moment, so we're not going to have the same type of endemic malaria that we might expect to see in other countries. But you could get it in southern Europe, and you could have imported cases from people returning from their holidays."
Among the risks are warmer summers and colder winters, which can increase mortality rates from cardiovascular diseases. Fuel poverty can increase risk, while there is also psychological impacts arising from flooding and other extreme events. There are concerns about private water supplies, which serve about 700,000 people, as they are not subject to the same standards as the public system.
A report from Safe Food on potential climate impacts on food supply says it is "highly likely" that "novel pest species such as invasive insects, weeds or fungi" will have to be dealt with. But Dr Kelly said that other considerations would have to be taken into account as well.
"We will be doing vulnerability assessments, which would include risks to infrastructure," she said. "Letterkenny Hospital, for example, has flooded in the past, so managers will assess this risk. There's also risk to ambulance transportation, and dependence on food being brought into the place. You look at things which could impact on your ability to provide services to your patients. But you also have GPs, the private health sector and private nursing homes. Each provider will have to do more of this.
"We're doing a scoping exercise, which started around 30 months ago, and we need to set baseline data. It's about mortality and morbidity and flooding, it's skin cancer risk. Has everything been anticipated? Probably not. Has everybody bought into it? Probably not. But we're mainstreaming it."