Published: 04 November 2022

Sustainability, climate change and medicine

Dr Dan Horton, Associate Dean for Research and Innovation and Professor of Veterinary Virology, explores how a changing climate will bring with it a range of health issues.

A changing climate

For the doctors of tomorrow, climate change may well be a personal concern – but it will also increasingly be a professional issue too. 

As the climate changes, different diseases may flourish under warmer, wetter conditions. For example, countries such as the UK may find themselves at risk of vector-borne diseases, as insects carrying them are able to thrive here.  

Pollution levels are likely to be higher, causing respiratory problems. Heatwaves put additional stresses on frail bodies. Climate change will affect food and nutrition, increasing strain on some sources of food; that in turn could lead to malnutrition, or increased obesity rates. 

Responding to these factors requires a long-term and global outlook. We know the climate is changing, but projections vary as to how fast and by how much. Healthcare and research priorities will evolve, as different issues come to the fore.  

Right now, zoonoses are at the top of the agenda. Concerns over the spread of monkeypox have been elevated by the Covid-19 pandemic. It seems highly probable that climate change will result in more animal viruses being transmitted to humans – and that our globalised culture will mean they spread worldwide.  

In preparing for this, we can examine the archetypal zoonosis: rabies. It’s proven that controlling the disease in dogs allows us to control it in humans but we therefore need to ensure we understand how the disease spreads in dogs, and how the virus evolves.  

While the future – in particular the future of our climate – remains uncertain, the past provides evidence we can learn from.  

One Health, One Medicine 

To improve our health and that of animals, we’ve implemented an One Health, One Medicine approach to our research and teaching. This approach brings together expertise from a broad range of multidisciplinary areas.