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Infectious Disease Risks Extend Northward as Temperatures Rise

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A skilled soccer player, snowboarder and mountain biker, Wood said he didn’t know the cause but he had to “back off from playing sports and back off from academics.”

It escalated even more, “I got really, really sick, and I couldn’t really do anything, I couldn’t work, I couldn’t really function or sort of be part of society. And it took me probably about four or five years to get any sort of diagnosis.”

When the diagnosis finally came, it was an unexpected one: Lyme disease. At the time, this tick-borne illness was responsible for only a few hundred infections annually in Canada, according to government statistics. However, the situation has drastically changed. Over the past decade, the number of Lyme disease cases has surged by more than 1,000 percent. This alarming increase is largely attributed to climate change, which is pushing the habitats of various pathogens and their vectors further north.

Exotic mosquito species, previously unseen in Canada, have now established populations in parts of Ontario. These mosquitoes have the potential to carry serious illnesses such as dengue and yellow fever, posing new public health challenges. Additionally, scientists are increasingly concerned that climate change will elevate the risks of microbial diseases linked to food contamination and warm weather conditions. These developments suggest that the warming climate is not just a future problem but a current reality impacting health and disease patterns.

For some, these changes have had a silver lining. Wood, whose own Lyme disease diagnosis spurred a career shift, now runs a private laboratory in Ontario called Geneticks. This lab is dedicated to testing ticks for various diseases, providing a crucial service in an era where tick-borne illnesses are on the rise. Through his work, Wood contributes to the broader effort to understand and mitigate the impacts of climate change on public health.

He said his work helps him to meet many people left “heavily, heavily disabled” from Lyme disease. “It’s very, very severe and the symptoms can be very, very diverse but very, very debilitating.”

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