In a recent chilling assessment, the World Health Organization (WHO) reported that human-induced changes in the Earth's climate now lead to at least 5 million cases of illness and more than 150,000 deaths every year.

Temperature fluctuations may sway human health in a surprising number of ways, scientists have learned, from influencing the spread of infectious diseases to boosting the likelihood of illness-inducing heat waves and floods.

Now, in a synthesis report featured in the journal Nature, a team of health and climate scientists at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and the WHO has shown that the growing health impacts of climate change affect different regions in markedly different ways. Ironically, the places that have contributed the least to warming the Earth are the most vulnerable to the death and disease higher temperatures can bring.

According to the Nature report, regions at highest risk for enduring the health effects of climate change include coastlines along the Pacific and Indian Oceans and sub-Saharan Africa. Large sprawling cities, with their urban "heat island" effect, are also prone to temperature-related health problems. Africa has some of the lowest per capita emissions of greenhouse gases. Yet, regions of the continent are gravely at risk for warming-related disease.

Aside from research and the needed support of policy-makers worldwide, Patz says individuals can also play an important role in curbing the health consequences of global warming. "Our consumptive lifestyles are having lethal impacts on other people around the world, especially the poor," Patz says. "There are options now for leading more energy-efficient lives that should enable people to make better personal choices."; Source: University of Wisconsin-Madison