Royal Society Publishing

Early effects of climate change: do they include changes in vector-borne disease?

R. S. Kovats , D. H. Campbell-Lendrum , A. J. McMichel , A. Woodward , J. St H. Cox


The world's climate appears now to be changing at an unprecedented rate. Shifts in the distribution and behaviour of insect and bird species indicate that biological systems are already responding to this change. It is well established that climate is an important determinant of the spatial and temporal distribution of vectors and pathogens. In theory, a change in climate would be expected to cause changes in the geographical range, seasonality (intra–annual variability), and in the incidence rate (with or without changes in geographical or seasonal patterns). The detection and then attribution of such changes to climate change is an emerging task for scientists. We discuss the evidence required to attribute changes in disease and vectors to the early effects of anthropogenic climate change. The literature to date indicates that there is a lack of strong evidence of the impact of climate change on vector–borne diseases (i.e. malaria, dengue, leishmaniasis, tick–borne diseases). New approaches to monitoring, such as frequent and long–term sampling along transects to monitor the full latitudinal and altitudinal range of specific vector species, are necessary in order to provide convincing direct evidence of climate change effects. There is a need to reassess the appropriate levels of evidence, including dealing with the uncertainties attached to detecting the health impacts of global change.