It's not just the unbearable heat that the public and health experts should be on the lookout for, but also how El Nino could be bringing and spreading diseases such as cholera across oceans and onto new shores, warned a new study.
Researchers from the United Kingdom and United States explored how new and terrifying waterborne illnesses in Latin America coincided in time and location with major El Nino events over the last three decades.
El Nino is a climate cycle characterized by the extraordinary warming of surface waters along South America's west coast, tending to take place every three to seven years. This natural phenomenon is feared to have become more extreme and frequent as a consequence of climate change.
The study linked newly emerging waterborne pathogens to the past three major El Nino occurrences, namely a cholera outbreak in Peru in 1990, resulting in more than 13,000 deaths; and two new variants of bacterium Vibrio parahaemolyticus in 1997 and 2010, which caused widespread sickness via shellfish contamination.
"Through our findings we suggest that so-called vibrios - microscopic bacteria commonly found in seawater - can attach to larger organisms such as zooplankton to travel oceans," explains lead author and University of Bath professor Dr. Jaime Martinez-Urtaza.
Bacteria bind to such bigger organisms as their energy source, essentially spreading diseases as driven by ocean currents. Study author Dr. Craig Baker-Austin dubbed this El Nino effect as an effective and long-distance "biological corridor," which offers an entryway to the U.S. for new and unique pathogens that periodically result in disease outbreaks.
According to the researchers, this relatively new discovery emphasizes the role of ocean currents in transporting disease, and may therefore help reshape health campaigns in countries affected by El Nino and extreme weather events.
The findings were published in the journal Nature Microbiology.
And the planet is getting hotter and hotter, with NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) declaring January 2016 as the warmest month on record.
This means that the planet has been plagued by record-setting heat for the ninth straight month, mirroring the last large-scale El Nino that occurred from June 1997 to February 1998.
Photo: Denise Krebs | Flickr