Hurricane season brings harsh weather–and disease

Hurricane season brings harsh weather–and disease

Thrashing winds, heavy downpours, power outages and devastating flooding can only mean the start of the hurricane season.

Hurricane season in the Atlantic runs from June 1 through November 30; in the Pacific from May 15 through November 30.

Yet the majority of storms tend to hit during the peak hurricane season running from August to October (on both coasts), according to the National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center.

But a new study out of Georgia State and Arizona State University is suggesting that hurricanes are more than just meteorological events. They may also be linked to the spread of mosquito-borne infectious diseases.

Mosquitoes and hurricanes

Published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B, the study revealed that oftentimes the mosquito population dramatically increases after a hurricane event, especially given the overwhelming presence of stagnant water – breeding grounds for mosquitos.

As the public and private heath infrastructure declines in the wake of a hurricane, more and more people run the risk of infection. The study found that disease outbreak is often highest if the hurricane occurs early in the transmission season when the mosquitos are able to pass along viruses to humans.

“Mosquitos are very sensitive to temperature not only in terms of their ability to survive and reproduce, but also in their ability to infect individuals,” said Gerardo Chowell, Professor of Mathematical Epidemiology in the School of Public Health and lead author of the study.

“The warmer it is, the faster an infected mosquito will be able to transmit the virus. Considering that mosquitos have an average lifespan of less than two weeks, that temperature difference can have a dramatic effect on disease outbreaks.”

Additionally, a population displacement can also increase the spread of disease. Those displaced may reduce the number of local infections, while increasing the number of cases elsewhere. Those who are not displaced run the risk of having no resources to treat or remove stagnant water as it’s often neglected when there are fewer residents.

“Since mosquito-borne diseases tend to be spread by the movement of people rather than the movement of mosquitoes, disaster-induced movements of people can shift where and when outbreaks occur,” said Charles Perrings, Professor in the School of Life Sciences at Arizona State University and a co-author of the study.

For now, the team understands that as hurricanes become more frequent due to the impacts of global warming, further tools will be needed to help assess how these natural disasters may very well play a part in disease transmission.

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