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NBC News: ‘Doctors cite climate change for rise in animal bites’

Doctors cite climate change for rise in animal bites, U.S. health care costs
By Shamard Charles, M.D.

Stanford researchers warn that the number of animal bites is likely to rise amid climate change and developmental pressures.

Rising temperatures are already exposing people in temperate climates to more mosquitoes and ticks, and developmental sprawl is reducing the amount of land available exclusively to animals.

“As available habitat for these animals increasingly overlaps with human development and recreational activities,” the researchers wrote in a BMJ news release, “it is expected encounters with animals may increase and could result in increased animal-related injuries.”

Dr. Joseph Forrester, the lead researcher of a study published Tuesday in the online BMJ journal Trauma Surgery and Acute Care Open, added, “We’ve already seen that with tick populations and mosquito populations. We would anticipate over time more people in traditionally temperate climates will be exposed.”

If this prediction holds, it will add to the enormous health care costs that already exist. Currently, U.S. health care costs for animal-related injuries exceed $1 billion every year, according to the study.

This estimate excludes doctors’ fees, outpatient clinic charges, lost productivity and the costs of rehabilitation, so the actual costs may be higher.

The study also found that the patients most likely to be injured by bites from venomous snakes, spiders and insects were in the lowest 25 percent of household income for their ZIP code.

This poses a major public health problem in children and adults.

Animal bites are most common among people living in rural, resource-poor settings, who subsist on low-cost, non-mechanical farming and other field occupations. Adult victims are often the wage earners or care providers of the family unit, and child victims can suffer lifelong disabilities, intensifying demands on families and communities.

The health impacts of animal bites depend on the type and health of the animal species, the size and health of the bitten person, and accessibility to appropriate health care.

Numerous animal species have the potential to bite humans; however, the most important are those arising from snakes, dogs, cats and monkeys.