Is the Drought Making You Sick?

I know it may sound extreme, but your health is actually at an increased risk during times of extreme drought. So if you live in an area where this year’s drought conditions are considered to be “extreme,” beware. And pay attention to signs that your well-being may be suffering. Here are a few reasons drought-related health risks are currently on the rise:

Air quality. Because the earth is so dry, there has been an increase in airborne dust, dust storms, and wildfires. Folks who spend time outside in these conditions are at an increased risk for irritated bronchial passages and lungs, pneumonia, and bronchitis. Valley fever is a fungal infection that’s associated with inhaling spores that become airborne when the soil is disrupted. Symptoms include fever, chest pain, coughing, rash, and muscle aches.

Water quality. Obviously, the quantity of water is affected during times of drought. But water quality can be compromised, too. People who rely on private wells to get their drinking water and those who sidestep proper sanitation and hygiene in an effort to conserve water are all at higher risk of illness.

Recreation. Since water levels are low in lakes where people swim, boat, or fish, those enjoying recreational activities are at increased risk. Disease-causing parasites thrive in warm, shallow water. And injuries and accidents can occur when divers hit the bottom in water that’s shallower than expected, or boats run aground in spots that are usually deeper.

Compromised food and nutrition. Low crop yields and increased grocery prices can lead to malnutrition when people can no longer afford to buy what they need. And it’s not just produce—the health of livestock and fish is also affected when there’s a drought, leading to reduced herds and food shortages.

Depression. People whose livelihood depends on water may be at an increased risk of mental health conditions due to financial-related stress.

So if you need more information, contact your county’s public health department about drought-related health concerns.