Adaptation: Field of Action Human Health

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Human health can be affected by climate change.
Source: Miss X/

Temperature changes that occur as a result of climate change can have a strong impact on public health. Adaptation measures to protect human health are primarily aimed at increasing education about health risks due to climate change, improving and expanding early warning systems, and implementing long-term measures in urban land use and green space planning.

Heat prevention measures

High levels of heat stress particularly affect the elderly and people with pre-existing conditions, babies and young children, and people who work outdoors. Educational measures about the consequences of heat stress on human health are central to protecting the population. Target group-specific information materials can provide information about the health effects of climate change and possible preventive and health-promoting measures. Medical and nursing staff should also be specifically trained to act as multipliers to promote the exchange of information and greater awareness among the population. In addition, occupational health and safety measures need to be adapted in order to adequately protect employees from heat.

Early warning systems send out specific warnings of increased heat stress in terms of time and space. The heat warning system of the German Meteorological Service (DWD) informs public health institutions as well as old people's and nursing homes about increased heat stress via a newsletter and direct e-mails so that they can take appropriate preventive measures. Citizens have the option of having the heat warnings sent directly to their mobile phones via an app and thus taking precautions themselves.

During acute heat periods, drinking partnerships or networks of outreach neighbourhood assistance can also help prevent heat-related illnesses among elderly people who live alone and are not cared for by nursing services.

In order to reduce heat stress in cities in the long term, green spaces with sufficient trees, courtyard gardens or green roofs, fresh air corridors and water areas play a major role. They reduce the heating of cities through evaporative cooling and thus protect the population from greater heat. In addition, urban planning should counteract the increasing sealing of settlement and traffic areas.

Heat stress indoors can be reduced by structural measures such as thermal insulation and shading/blinds. Especially social communal facilities where risk groups are present, such as hospitals or old people's and nursing homes, should be protected by technical devices. In certain cases, air-conditioned rooms are also helpful.

In order to support municipalities in the prevention of heat-related illnesses in 2017 the Federal Government/Länder Working Group "Health Adaptation to the Consequences of Climate Change", under the leadership of the Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety, compiled recommendations for action for the preparation of heat action plans. These are to serve local authorities as a blueprint for the development of regionally or locally adapted heat action plans.

Indicator from the Monitoring on the DAS: Heat warning service and Success case study

Measures to reduce allergic reactions caused by pollen

In order for allergy sufferers to find individual strategies to alleviate the symptoms of a pollen allergy, information services for forecasting the pollen flight as well as a precise knowledge of the individual clinical picture are helpful. Affected persons can avoid certain locations during leisure activities, ventilate rooms at appropriate times of the day or adapt their medication to the pollen situation. To obtain information on pollen distribution, pollen apps such as the "GesundheitsWetter-App" of the German Meteorological Service (DWD) or the "Pollen App" of the Foundation German Pollen Information Service (Stiftung Deutscher Polleninformationsdienst e. V.) can be used. The apps also make it possible to document allergic symptoms. On one hand, this improves the understanding of one's own clinical picture and makes it easier to adapt to it. On the other hand, the data can be scientifically evaluated and contributes to the accurate recording of the spread of allergic symptoms.

In municipal construction and green space planning, attention should be paid to allergy-friendly plant selection. Planting recommendations for municipalities should be regularly reviewed to take into account new findings on allergenicity of invasive species, among others.

Indicator from the Monitoring on the DAS: Information on pollen

Measures to reduce potentially harmful microorganisms and algae

Due to rising temperatures in summer, lakes, rivers and the sea may warm up. If at the same time the nutrient content of the waters is high, the risk of contamination with cyanobacteria, the so-called blue-green algae, in fresh waters and vibrios in salt water increases. To prevent the bacteria from proliferating, it is important to reduce nutrient inputs to water bodies. A large part of the nitrogen and phosphorus inputs come from agriculture, so measures should be taken in this area. This includes, for example, the reduction of fertiliser quantities as well as measures that help to reduce soil erosion and runoff. In small and medium-sized lakes, natural riparian vegetation can help to prevent the water from warming up too much.

Measures to reduce UV-related health damage

Skin diseases due to high UV radiation exposure can be avoided by a conscious approach to the sun and UV radiation. This includes avoiding the intense midday sun and using UV protection such as creams and clothing. In order to counteract the rising number of skin cancer cases, the risk awareness of the population and the motivation to protect oneself must be increased. The target group-oriented education and training of citizens, in the health care system, in schools and companies is necessary in order to integrate measures for UV protection sustainably and consistently into everyday life. The integration of information on UV exposure in early warning systems can also increase risk awareness.

Urban land use and green space planning can provide more shade and thus reduce UV radiation exposure by creating and maintaining tree locations as well as by greening roofs and facades and removing roofing that blocks UV radiation.