An Early Spring Poses Health Risks

Spring Is Coming Early Across America

Last year marked the hottest year ever recorded around the world for the third year in a row. The abnormally warm weather from 2016 has carried over to 2017.

According to new data from the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), spring is arriving up to three weeks ahead of schedule in some regions. The shift is already beginning to happen in the southern Great Plains and the Southeast Atlantic Coast, evident by the maps from the USA National Phenology Network. Additionally, spring’s coming early in coastal California, southern Nevada and Illinois, southeaster Colorado, and central Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia, and Virginia. It will also soon hit Philadelphia and Indianapolis. As for Washington D.C., spring arrived 22 days earlier this year compared to the long-term average from 1981 to 2010.

Health Risks of an Early Spring

Though this may be a welcome relief from the cold weather, an early spring actually poses significant challenges to the economy, society, and public health, which are all affected by fluctuating temperature patterns.

1. Allergy Season

First, earlier springs mean longer and more severe allergy seasons. “Plants like ragweed have no problem coming out earlier and producing pollen over multiple cycles now,” says Dr. Aaron Bernstein, associate director of the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health Center for Health and the Global Environment. “Hay fever season is getting longer, and those plants are also putting out more pollen because there is more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.”

2. Disease-carrying Insects

Not only does spring produce an abundance of pollen, but it also gives rise to insects that spread infectious diseases. Health experts worry that the current temperature fluctuations may mean more cases of malaria, Zika, dengue, Lyme, and eastern equine encephalitis. “There’s no question that when it’s too cold, ticks and mosquitoes cannot thrive,” says Bernstein. “An overall warming trend opens up the chance for them to live in new places and to stay alive for longer periods of time.”

3. Diseases with No Vaccine

With the potential for diseases to spread quicker and further, experts are most concerned about the diseases for which that are no vaccines or treatment currently available. “We don’t want to have to resort to spraying potentially harmful pesticides over large swaths of land to kill mosquitoes, or quarantining people who enter the country from certain parts of the world, or exposing our children to vaccines that haven’t been tested thoroughly,” Bernstein says.

4. Waterborne Diseases

In addition to diseases, contracted by insects, there’s also an increased risk of waterborne disease outbreaks. As spring comes early so does an earlier-than-normal snow melt. Melted snow along with increased rainfall leads to flooding as rivers and dams overflow. Not only can this lead to disease, but it can also affect the availability of the U.S. food supply.

Bottom Line

Climate change combined with shorter-term weather patterns are predominantly behind this year’s early spring. “It’s true that we can’t really prove that these specific changes this specific year are caused by climate change,” says Bernstein. “But really, that’s akin to telling someone who has smoked for 30 years that we can’t really prove that cigarette smoking caused his lung cancer.”

Regardless if it is climate change or not, make sure you’re protected this spring with health insurance. Contact a licensed agent today to go over your health plan options.

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