DES MOINES — Ballooning amounts of ticks, mosquitoes and poison ivy are invading Iowa because of climate change, and the increase will bring higher rates for disease, according to a report by the Iowa Wildlife Federation.
The report, titled “Ticked Off — America’s Outdoor Experience and Climate Change,” outlined effects on the outdoors from rising carbon dioxide rates, increased humidity and altered seasons like milder winters.
“If we keep the status quo the way we’re living, it will keep getting worse and we will start seeing diseases we never dreamed about coming to our soil,” said Dr. Yogesh Shah, associate dean of the Department of Global Health at Des Moines University.
To illustrate his point, Shah highlighted the rise of Chikungunya, a viral disease transmitted by mosquito bites, which starts with cold-like symptoms and then persists as joint pains for up to several years. Chikungunya, he said, was hardly discussed just six months ago, but will likely become more prevalent.
Shah said that with every degree increase in temperature, mosquito population increases by nearly tenfold — plus the viruses are living longer in each mosquito.
The report found that more carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, mainly from burning fossil fuels, is causing poison ivy to grow more rapidly and with stronger toxicity.
“If a drop used to cause a rash, now it’s just half a drop,” Shah said.
Deer ticks that carry Lyme disease are expected to be “more widespread than ever before” because of milder winters.
“Climate change is not so subtle anymore,” said Joe Wilkinson, president of the Iowa Wildlife Federation. “With temperatures going up a degree to two, as a human, I can handle that. But what will be the cumulative effect?”
The report encourages people to reduce carbon pollution, invest in clean energy, increase energy efficiency, put buffers around farmland to keep soil in place, clean stagnant pools of water where mosquitoes breed and wear protective clothing outdoors.