Cholera linked to climate change, says Colwell

January - February, 2009  |  Volume 8, Issue 1

Dr. Rita Colwell speaks to audience members while Dr. Roger I. Glass looks on.
Fogarty Director Dr. Roger I. Glass has a front-row seat for
former National Science Foundation Director Dr. Rita Colwell's
recent lecture on climate change and infectious disease.

Explaining how weather conditions and satellite imagery can predict outbreaks of cholera, former National Science Foundation director Dr. Rita Colwell told Fogarty staff and others recently that NIH “needs to become more holistic” in its scientific approach.

Cholera appears to spread rapidly across regions of the globe, but in reality, she said, the bacteria spring up naturally in multiple coastal areas based on unusual temperature and ocean conditions and migrate by way of currents, contaminated drinking water and human-to-human contact.

Hands holding a jar covered with cloth
Photo by Rita Colwell
A Bangladeshi woman filters
drinking water through a sari cloth.

Studying infectious diseases from an environmental perspective has led to new insights into the role that climate and genetic change play in cholera, malaria and other diseases that disproportionately affect tropical regions, she said. “The notion that a single pandemic strain is sweeping across a nation is refuted by genomic data,” Colwell said.

Fogarty has established a trans-NIH working group on climate change and health research (Global Health Matters, Vol. 7, No. 5, p. 3). “NIH should have a leading role in climate and health … but it has been driven by reductionism. That is highly productive for many areas but NIH now needs to become holistic for these larger more complex problems,” she said.

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