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Climate change, in forms such as heatwaves, cloudbursts, flooding and drought, also affects people’s health. The risk of being infected by disease-carrying insects and animals, or by water of poorer quality, will increase as average temperatures rise.

Heatwaves result in higher death rates during the summer

Each summer extremely high temperatures and high air humidity cause an increase in the number of deaths. As heatwaves increase in both frequency and severity, people in risk groups will be exposed to an even greater danger. These risk groups include older people, disabled people, young children and pregnant women, and people with heart problems.

Increased risk of injury and illness

Extreme weather can have a direct impact on human health. Apart from warmer summers leading to more heat-related deaths, deaths caused by falling trees, landslides, fire, drowning in conjunction with cloudbursts and flooding will also become more common.

Climatic effects on health can also be indirect, as a result of the impact on ecosystems, economies and social structures. A warmer climate could lead to the increased spreading of certain contagious diseases – for example, by host animals and vectors becoming more common and more widely distributed as a result of the changing climate. The increased number of vectors will represent a greater risk for the spread of vector-borne diseases. Higher temperatures will also enhance the growth of bacteria in foodstuffs, drinking water and bathing water. Heavier and changed patterns of precipitation could result in the overflowing of wastewater and cause leakage from contaminated land.

Changing conditions during the winter

Changed risk patterns of road accidents and slip, trips and fall accidents can also be linked to health outcomes of climate change. It is difficult to predict in which direction a changing climate will affect these risk patterns. Temperatures in the northern part of Sweden will rise more quickly, which could lead to more zero-crossings, and hence, more icy conditions and poorer road conditions. In the southern part, shorter periods of ice and snow are expected.

As average temperatures rise in Sweden, there may be a reduction in cold-related health problems.

Higher temperatures may result in an increase in air pollution levels

A warmer and more humid climate may increase the occurrence of pollen, mites and mould. Air pollution will also be affected by climate change, as higher temperatures accelerate certain chemical reactions in the atmosphere and increase the evaporation of volatile substances. In addition, increased temperatures also contribute to the formation of ground-level ozone and certain other particles. The health outcomes of these effects could include increases in cardiovascular- and respiratory disease.

Climate adaptation in the health sector

One way of meeting the challenges presented by climate change is the production of action plans. Heatwaves can have a major adverse effect on care recipients, so specific action plans are often produced to cope with such events. Action plans for heatwaves could include measures such as changing the diet, spending less time in the sun, the increased intake of liquids and reduced physical activity.