Published: 05/17/2024

Dr. Erin Mordecai discusses what we know and how to prepare on the Climate Now podcast

By Violet Glickman

As global temperatures continue to rise, the life cycles of vectors —organisms that carry pathogens— are changing, and so are the diseases they carry, such as malaria, dengue fever, Zika virus, and chikungunya virus. 

In a recent discussion with the Climate Now podcast, Dr. Erin Mordecai, Ph.D., a Stanford associate professor specializing in infectious disease ecology, explained how rising global temperatures and urbanization influence the spread and range of vector-borne diseases. She predicts that malaria will become prevalent in cooler regions that border more temperate areas already endemic to malaria as temperatures continue to rise.

Mordecai also highlighted the importance of understanding the differences in the life and transmission cycles of various vectors. With ticks, one of the most influential factors in its success as a vector is whether it can survive winters. For the first time, Lyme disease has reached Canada as the warmer winters due to climate change allow for stable transmission to occur. 

“That’s where we’re starting to see that fingerprint of climate change driving the expansion of [vector-borne diseases],” said Mordecai.

When asked about preventative measures that can be taken to slow the spread of these vector-borne illnesses, Mordecai emphasized that beyond climate change mitigation, improving infrastructure in affected regions is crucial. Investments in quality housing, reliable access to piped water, and sanitation services can significantly reduce mosquito exposure, particularly species that thrive in urban settings.

Interested to learn more about how climate change is impacting vector-borne diseases and what preventive measures can be taken to protect human health? Listen to the full podcast on the Climate Now website, Spotify, or Apple Podcasts

For those interested in learning more about infectious diseases or becoming involved in current research, the 2024 Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases (EEID) Conference is being held at Stanford from Monday, June 24 to Thursday, June 27. Learn more about the conference or register using this link