GOOD

The Microbiological Havoc of the Anthropocene

From Vibrio to E. coli, what a warmer planet means for food safety.

In the summer of 2004, many passengers traveling aboard the Spirit of Columbia, a 143-foot cruise ship in Alaska's Prince William Sound, unexpectedly came down with intense bouts of nausea, vomiting, and—it got pretty gross—explosive, watery diarrhea. Seasickness is one thing. This was much worse. According to a study later published in the New England Medical Journal, epidemiologists traced the cause to a disease found in raw oysters, Vibrio parahaemolyticus. It was an unprecedented outbreak; the microbe had never been seen that far north.


“This is one of the first instances we’re seeing of a waterborne disease actually changing its range, and that’s what’s so significant,” Paul Epstein, a director of Harvard Medical School’s Center for Health and the Global Environment, told me. “It’s part of a larger picture of infectious diseases on land changing their ranges.”

Global climate change is undeniably reshaping the world around us, melting ice caps, causing coastal flooding, fomenting storms with increasing intensity, and leaving indelible stratigraphic signals in ice cores and sedimentary rocks. But the associated risks are rippling through the world’s microbial community—Salmonella, Giardia, and Fasciola—with a measurable impact on our food supply. As Dr. J. Glenn Morris, the director of the Emerging Pathogens Institute at the University of Florida, told me, “Vibrio are the poster child for the impact of climate change on pathogens.”

In his latest book, Changing Planet, Changing Health, Epstein writes that extreme weather affects the timing and intensity of infectious diseases, contributing to everything from E. coli to Cryptosporidium. Warming has been linked to increases in asthma, allergies, and mycotoxins in corn and peanuts.

So, more than just crop failures and the associated rise in food prices, unchecked, global warming poses clear threats for safe food. And yet the process is only beginning to play out.

Top image via Janice Carr/CDC. Bottom image via "Climate anomalies and the increasing risk of Vibrio parahaemolyticus and Vibrio vulnificus illnesses" ©2010 Elsevier.

Articles
via Jason S Campbell / Twitter

Conservative radio host Dennis Prager defended his use of the word "ki*e," on his show Thursday by insisting that people should be able to use the word ni**er as well.

It all started when a caller asked why he felt comfortable using the term "ki*e" while discussing bigotry while using the term "N-word" when referring to a slur against African-Americans.

Prager used the discussion to make the point that people are allowed to use anti-Jewish slurs but cannot use the N-word because "the Left" controls American culture.

Keep Reading
Politics

Step by step. 8 million steps actually. That is how recent college graduate and 22-year-old Sam Bencheghib approached his historic run across the United States. That is also how he believes we can all individually and together make a big impact on ridding the world of plastic waste.

Keep Reading
The Planet

According to the FBI, the number of sexual assaults reported during commercial flights have increased "at an alarming rate." There was a 66% increase in sexual assault on airplanes between 2014 and 2017. During that period, the number of opened FBI investigations into sexual assault on airplanes jumped from 38 to 63. And flight attendants have it worse. A survey conducted by the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA found that 70% of flight attendants had been sexually harassed while on the job, while only 7% reported it.

Keep Reading
Travel