Climate change will aggravate diseases and negatively impact health care systems as extreme weather events become more frequent[1]. It is important for health systems to be resilient to these events so that they can be ready to serve when needed the most. An illuminating case is that of Texas Medical Center (TMC), which learned lessons from hurricanes and tropical storms Katrina (2005), Rita (2005), and Allison (2001). These storms deluged Houston with floodwaters and cut off patients from needed medical care.  The medical center then built its own new heat and power utility plant (which, by the way, emits reduced carbon) high enough to resist flooding and installed submarine doors to protect its basement floors from incoming water. TMC managed to remain fully operational during hurricane Harvey in 2017. Read here to know more.

Diseases aggravated by climate change and particulate matter:

  • Heat-related illnesses: Gradual or sudden increases in temperatures raise the risk of serious heat-related illnesses, such as dehydration and heat stroke, and aggravates existing respiratory and cardiovascular These risks require a comprehensive heat response plan that focuses on vulnerable populations and high-risk neighborhoods. Click here to learn more about heat-related illnesses and here to learn ways to remain cool during hot temperatures.
  • Vector-borne diseases: Warmer temperatures and greater rainfall create the ideal conditions for the spread of vector-borne diseases, which are transmitted by animals such as mosquitoes and ticks. Human Hantavirus Cardio-pulmonary Syndrome (HCPS), Lyme disease, and West Nile virus are three diseases that climate change may exacerbate in California. Click here to know more. According to the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), there are 12 pathogens that could spread into new regions due to climate change[2], the potential impacts of which include plagues, red tides, cholera, and Ebola. Click here to read WCS’s full report, which recommends using predictive analytics, pinpointing possible hot spots, and educating the public on recognizing the early signs of vector-borne diseases.
  • Food and water contamination and water-borne diseases: Heavy rainfall and flooding put agriculture, sewage and drainage systems at risk while also contributing to the spread diseases related to food and water contamination and poor sanitation. Such a situation can quickly result in an epidemic of a disease such as cholera. Read here to know more about San Mateo City’s Clean Water Program, which aims to upgrade the aging wastewater collection and treatment system with advanced infrastructure that will provide reliable services for years to come.
  • Air pollution and related illnesses: Warmer temperatures increase the concentration of allergens, such as pollen, as well as ground-level pollutants such as ozone that aggravate allergies and increase the risk of respiratory and asthma complications and are also linked to poor cardiovascular outcomes. Hazards such as wildfires also result in soot, burns and smoke inhalation, as well as eye and respiratory illnesses. Check EPA’s air quality index (AQI) here to see the current air quality conditions for your location.
  • Mental health – People who experience severe weather disasters such as wildfires may also suffer from mental health illnesses, trauma or stress-related disorders that can severely impair their ability to bounce back to normalcy.

For image source weblink, click here


To know more about climate-change-induced health threats, please read here. To track health and environment data compiled by the Centre for Disease Control (CDC), click here. Initiatives within the Bay Area such as the Bay Area Regional Health Inequities Initiative (BARHII) are focused on building community resilience against the impacts of climate change. You can access BARHII’s quick guides that aim to build capacity of Bay Area health departments here. One of the worst affected population groups due to decline in air quality and climate change aggravated diseases are those suffering from asthma, discussed in the following section, which has witnessed a rise amongst all age groups, genders, ethnicities, and neighborhoods.

Asthma: Asthma is a chronic disease affecting the airways that carry oxygen in and out of the lungs and can cause shortness of breath, wheezing, coughing, and tightness in the chest. Asthma attacks have been linked to many factors, including exposure to environmental hazards like allergens, tobacco smoke, and indoor and outdoor air pollution. Rising temperatures can lead to an increase in ground-level ozone, smog, pollen, strength of airborne allergens, and a longer allergy season. All these factors along with air pollution can lead to both developing asthma and aggravating its incidence. The populations most vulnerable to these triggers are children, the elderly, people with lung disease, and people who are actively outdoors. To know more about asthma triggers and prevention, click here.

The graphs below compare asthma prevalence rates in San Mateo County to those in the state of California as a whole. They show higher prevalence in San Mateo County in all age groups for which data is available. Lifetime asthma prevalence is the proportion of people who have ever been diagnosed with asthma by a healthcare provider. Active asthma prevalence is the proportion of people who have ever been diagnosed with asthma by a healthcare provider AND report they still have asthma and/or have had an episode or attack within the past 12 months.

Source: California Department of Public Health, County profiles. Access here


Source: California Department of Public Health, County profiles. Access here


To combat health impacts of climate change, considering social equity in response and recovery is critical. Only 20% of health is attributed to clinical care (access and quality) while 40% is attributable to social and economic factors such as income, education, employment, family and social support.[3] In order to be equitable, the public agencies’ response and planning should  especially look out for populations who have limited resources to prepare and recover, including children, the elderly, lower-income residents, ethnic and linguistic minorities, those who face unstable housing conditions, and those with limited access to vehicles.

In the Social Vulnerability Index (2016), San Mateo County scored an overall score of 0.2735 (where 0 is the lowest and 2 indicates the highest vulnerability).  This score indicates a low to moderate level of vulnerability, but it should be noted per the graph at right that the populations living in North Fair Oaks and South Bay, to name a few, are socially vulnerable to disasters. Public agency response plans should address this vulnerability.

Source for graph: Centre for Diseases Control’s Social Vulnerability Index 2016, Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. Accessed at:



The graph above represents socially vulnerable groups in SMC that require targeted support and capacity building for climate change adaptation and resilience building.







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