5 health risks spurred by the drought
Feeling parched? During this summer’s record-breaking drought, you hopefully stayed hydrated and avoided heat exhaustion. These extreme weather conditions can lead to wellness issues that linger after the searing, dry weather breaks. We spoke to microbiology experts to find out what long-term problems drought can bring:
Depression and stress
Coping with a prolonged drought’s economic fallout can easily snowball into heightened stress levels and take a serious toll on people’s mental health, says Shameema Sarker, PhD, area chair of the University of Phoenix College of Natural Sciences. “Lots of difficult decisions and choices need to be made,” she explains. For instance, people may struggle with higher food prices, or their homes may be threatened by drought-fueled wildfires.
These escalated stress levels can cause depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and more, Sarker adds.
“In general, we will see a lot more airborne pollutants because we don’t have the rain water to flush them out of the atmosphere,” says Benjamin Lewin, MA, a middle school science teacher in Manhattan and instructor of health and wellness courses. The increased dust, mold and pollen particles aggravate allergies and asthma, and can potentially lead to bronchitis, he notes.
When water levels decline, pools of water become stagnant and polluted — ripe breeding grounds for mosquitoes carrying West Nile virus, which Lewin calls the greatest waterborne health risk in the country. The virus ranges in severity. Some infected people may not have any symptoms, Sarker explains, but others may get a headache and high fever, or even suffer convulsions, coma or paralysis.
When trying to minimize water usage during a drought, some people cut down on daily hygiene routines, such as washing hands and showering, Sarker says, a practice she does not recommend. This can put you at risk for gastrointestinal disorders and other infectious diseases.
Although widespread malnutrition is not an immediate issue for Americans, Lewin says, skyrocketing prices for such basic food staples as vegetables and meat can push people into unbalanced eating habits, which can lead to anemia and other nutritional deficiencies. But the drought does have one edible upside, Lewin adds: Water-deprived fruits and vegetables have concentrated nutrients and flavor.