Climate, Ecology, and Infectious Human Disease

  • James L. A. Webb


This chapter provides an historical overview of the relationship between climate change, ecological change, and infectious human disease. It argues that the forces of climate have long been determinative in establishing the ecological parameters within which human beings and the pathogens that have caused infectious disease have coexisted. Our best understandings of the interactions of climate, ecology, and infectious human disease are based on the integration of perspectives from the biological, social, and historical sciences.


  1. Acuña-Soto, Rodolfo. “Megadrought and Megadeath in 16th-Century Mexico.” Emerging Infectious Diseases 8 (2002): 360–62.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Acuña-Soto, Rudolfo et al. “Large Epidemics of Hemorrhagic Fevers in Mexico 1545–1815.” The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene 62 (2000): 733–39.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Barrett, Ron, and George J. Armelagos. An Unnatural History of Emerging Infections. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013.Google Scholar
  4. Brooke, John L. Climate Change and the Course of Global History: A Rough Journey. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Bryant, Juliet E. et al. “Out of Africa: A Molecular Perspective on the Introduction of Yellow Fever Virus into the Americas.” PLoS Pathog 3 (2007): e75.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Chaves, Luis Fernando, and Constantianus J.M. Koenraadt. “Climate Change and Highland Malaria: Fresh Air for a Hot Debate.” The Quarterly Review of Biology 85 (2010): 27–55.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Choffnes, Eileen R., and Alison Mack. The Influence of Global Environmental Change on Infectious Disease Dynamics: Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2014.Google Scholar
  8. Courtin, F. et al. “Sleeping Sickness in West Africa (1906–2006): Changes in Spatial Repartition and Lessons from the Past.” Tropical Medicine & International Health 13 (2008): 334–44.Google Scholar
  9. Crosby, Alfred W. The Columbian Exchange: Biological and Cultural Consequences of 1492. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1972.Google Scholar
  10. Dennis, Joseph M., and Abel Wolman. “1955–56 Infectious Hepatitis Epidemic in Delhi, India [with Discussion].” Journal American Water Works Association 51 (1959): 1288–98.Google Scholar
  11. DeWitte, Sharon, and Philip Slavin. “Between Famine and Death: England on the Eve of the Black Death—Evidence from Paleoepidemiology and Manorial Accounts.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 44 (2013): 37–60.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Diamond, Jared M. Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies. New York: W.W. Norton, 1997.Google Scholar
  13. Diamond, Jared M. Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed. New York: Viking, 2005.Google Scholar
  14. Hoberg, Eric et al. “Out of Africa: Origins of the Taenia Tapeworms in Humans.” Proceedings: Biological Sciences 268 (2001): 781–87.Google Scholar
  15. Hoppe, Kirk A. “Lords of the Fly: Colonial Visions and Revision of African Sleeping-Sickness Environments on Ugandan Lake Victoria, 1906–61.” Africa 67 (1997): 86–105.Google Scholar
  16. Lemon, Stanley M. Vector-Borne Diseases: Understanding the Environmental, Human Health, and Ecological Connections, Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2008.Google Scholar
  17. Liu, Weimin et al. “Origin of the Human Malaria Parasite Plasmodium Falciparum in Gorillas.” Nature 467 (2010): 420–25.Google Scholar
  18. Lyons, Maryinez. The Colonial Disease: A Social History of Sleeping Sickness in Northern Zaire, 1900–1940. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. McAnany, Patricia Ann, and Norman Yoffee, eds. Questioning Collapse: Human Resilience, Ecological Vulnerability, and the Aftermath of Empire. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.Google Scholar
  20. Mack, Alison et al. Global Climate Change and Extreme Weather Events: Understanding the Contributions to Infectious Disease Emergence, Workshop Summary. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2008.Google Scholar
  21. McNeill, John Robert. Mosquito Empires: Ecology and War in the Greater Caribbean, 1620–1914. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2010.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. McNeill, William Hardy. Plagues and Peoples. Garden City, NY: Anchor Press, 1976.Google Scholar
  23. Marr, John S., and James B. Kiracofe. “Was the Huey Cocoliztli a Hemorrhagic Fever?” Medical History 44 (2000): 341–62.Google Scholar
  24. Mokyr, J., and C. Ó Grada. “What Do People Die of During Famines: The Great Irish Famine in Comparative Perspective.” European Review of Economic History 6 (2002): 339–63.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. National Research Council (U.S.), and Ecosystems Committee on Climate Infectious Disease, and Human Health. Under the Weather: Climate, Ecosystems, and Infectious Disease. Washington, DC: National Academy Press, 2001.Google Scholar
  26. Peng, W., and C.D. Criscione. “Ascariasis in People and Pigs: New Inferences from DNA Analysis of Worm Populations.” Infection, Genetics and Evolution: Journal of Molecular Epidemiology and Evolutionary Genetics in Infectious Diseases 12 (2012): 227–35.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Post, J.D. “Climatic Variability and the European Mortality Wave of the Early 1740’s.” The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 15 (1984): 1–30.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Redman, Charles L. Human Impact on Ancient Environments. Tucson: University of Arizona Press, 1999.Google Scholar
  29. Schellekens, Jona. “Irish Famines and English Mortality in the Eighteenth Century.” The Journal of Interdisciplinary History 26 (1996): 29–42.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Schmid, Boris V. et al. “Climate-Driven Introduction of the Black Death and Successive Plague Reintroductions into Europe.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 112 (2015): 3020–25.Google Scholar
  31. Stannard, David E. American Holocaust: Columbus and the Conquest of the New World. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.Google Scholar
  32. Torrey, E. Fuller, and Robert H. Yolken. Beasts of the Earth: Animals, Humans, and Disease. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press, 2005.Google Scholar
  33. Webb, James L.A. Desert Frontier: Ecological and Economic Change along the Western Sahel, 1600–1850. Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1995.Google Scholar
  34. Webb, James L.A. Humanity’s Burden: A Global History of Malaria. Cambridge; New York: Cambridge University Press, 2009.Google Scholar
  35. Webb, James L.A. The Long Struggle Against Malaria in Tropical Africa. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. White, Sam. “The Real Little Ice Age.” Journal of Interdisciplinary History 44 (2014): 327–52.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Wolfe, N.D. et al. “Origins of Major Human Infectious Diseases.” In Improving Food Safety Through a One Health Approach. Washington, DC: National Academies Press, 2012.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • James L. A. Webb
    • 1
  1. 1.Colby CollegeWatervilleUSA

Personalised recommendations