Climate Change Is Increasing the Incidence of Trench Fever

Climate Change Is Increasing the Incidence of Trench Fever

Dangerous flesh-eating bacterial infections increased in Florida after Hurricane Ian (Image: iStockphoto)


Sebastien Schieffelin

PublishedTuesday, May 20, 2018

The deadly flesh-eating bacterial infection called trench fever is becoming far more frequent across the United States as the climate crisis takes a heavy toll on our communities. A new study quantifies the effect of climate change on the incidence of trench fever across the country.

Trench fever is an acute form of what is known as human pock-and-rust disease, a condition that affects up to 5 percent of the population annually. In 2014, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that more than 5,000 Americans had been diagnosed with the bacteria that causes trench fever – and that number had increased over the years. While the disease generally occurs in winter between the middle of November and mid-March, the report said that it had spiked across the country in 2015 and 2016, with people in up to 30 states catching the disease.

The infection is brought on primarily by a bacteria of the Campylobacter family, which grows in warm, wet soil in areas where it is abundant. Although trench fever is rare in developed nations, it is more common in the tropics, and, for that reason, is generally more severe in those countries.

A report from the Environmental Health Trust and the Southern Poverty Law Center published in September 2014 found that the incidence of trench fever has increased in Florida following Hurricane Irma. The researchers used data from the US CDC, the US Geological Survey, and the Florida Division of Public Health to analyze the effects of Hurricane Irma and the subsequent floods in Florida on the incidence of trench fever.

Data from the US CDC and the University of California at San Diego suggest that the increase in the number of cases of trench fever in Florida was driven by a larger number of outbreaks in low-income areas. Another recent study found that, in New Orleans, the climate change-related floods were accompanied by outbreaks of the bacteria that causes trench fever, with warmer weather and higher water levels causing the bacteria to proliferate more in areas that were inundated during the storms.

Because trench fever is a rare but potentially serious disease, the researchers in

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