Health care providers and public health authorities should start planning to manage the current and future health risks associated with climate change, reports a special topic section in the January Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine, official publication of the American College of Occupational and Environmental Medicine (ACOEM), according to an ACOEM press release.

The four articles in the special section, authored by experts in the field, address critical issues in evaluating the likely health impact of climate change in the United States, including steps to anticipate and remediate those risks. Kristie L. Ebi, PhD, MPH, of ESS, LLC, Alexandria, Va., discusses public health responses to climate change, including the individuals and agencies responsible for addressing specific types of risks. Dr. Ebi highlights the need for coordinated efforts at the local, state, and federal levels to ensure maximum effectiveness, including the ability to identify and rapidly respond to new risks.

Many of the health risks associated with climate change already exist, Dr. Ebi believes. She writes, “Although the U.S. has the capacity to cope with most of the projected health impacts of climate change, there is evidence that the current levels of adaptation are insufficient.”

An article written by Marie S. O'Neill, PhD, of University of Michigan, and Dr. Ebi, focuses on the health effects of temperature extremes. Current projections suggest that heat waves and hot weather are likely to become more frequent. “Temperature extremes and variability will remain important determinants of health in the U.S. under climate change,” Drs. O'Neill and Ebi write.

David M. Mills, MA, of Stratus Consulting, Inc., Boulder, Colo., also analyzes the evidence that climate change will increase the risk of various types of extreme weather events. Evidence suggests that the increased rate of wildfires in the western U.S. already represents “a strong climate change signal,” he writes. Some studies suggest that the rate and intensity of hurricanes have also increased, although the results are inconclusive so far. Extreme precipitation and floods appear likely to increase in some U.S. regions.

John M. Balbus, MD, MPH, and Catherine Malina of the Environmental Defense Fund, Washington, D.C., focus on identifying population groups who are especially vulnerable to the health effects of climate change. Groups at particularly high risk include infants and children, pregnant women, the elderly and those with chronic medical conditions, impoverished groups, and outdoor workers. The authors believe it will be especially important to identify populations affected by overlapping risks associated with “geography, socioeconomic status, and underlying medical conditions.”