Livestream Climate & Health Meeting

Join the conversation at #ClimateChangesHealth

Audiences in Wisconsin will be able to listen in when world experts explore the science, consequences and health opportunities of climate change at Thursday’s Climate & Health Meeting in Atlanta.

The University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Global Health Institute (GHI) joins former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, the American Public Health Association (APHA), the Climate Reality Project, global health programs at the University of Washington and Harvard, and Howard Frumkin, former director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Environmental Health, to host the meeting that will be livestreamed beginning at 7 a.m. (CT), Thursday, February 16 with Gore’s opening keynote at 8:30.


The meeting provides a platform for the public health and climate communities to come together to find solutions. GHI Director Jonathan Patz, who has called climate change the biggest challenge – and opportunity — for human and planetary health, welcomes the conversation, and after Gore’s opening keynote, will moderate the opening panel, “Connecting Climate Change and Public Health: State of the Science.”

“Global climate change is one of the most pressing health crises of our time,” says Patz, the John Holton Chair in Health and the Environment with appointments in the Nelson Institute for Environmental Studies and the Department of Population Health Sciences. “And it threatens to undermine many substantial health gains across the world. The APHA has declared 2017 the year of climate change and health, and this meeting marks the first in a series of events that will culminate at the annual APHA conference in November, which is anticipated to be a truly defining moment,” Patz says.

Gore, who is founder and chairman of the Climate Reality Project, was a prime mover in organizing the meeting at the nonprofit Carter Center in Atlanta. “Health professionals urgently need the very best science in order to protect the public, and climate science has increasingly critical implications for their day-to-day work,” he said in a press release. “With more and more hot days, which exacerbate the proliferation of the Zika virus and other public health threats, we cannot afford to waste any more time.” The one-day meeting replaces a three-day conference that was cancelled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The meeting comes as 2016, for the third consecutive year, set a heat record, and 16 of the 17 hottest years have occurred since 2001. Ninety-seven percent of the world’s climate scientists agree that climate change is linked to human activity, including the burning of fossil fuels and emission of greenhouse gases. Increasing temperatures, extreme weather and rising sea levels – all connected to climate change – are accelerating global health problems, from malnutrition to the transmission of disease.

For Patz, addressing climate change offers an unprecedented opportunity to benefit human health.  “Global health and the global climate are inseparable,” he says. “Moving toward greenhouse gas emissions policies can yield some of our greatest public health benefits, especially related to chronic diseases.” Patz’s research team at UW-Madison continues to build this evidence.

Brief schedule (CT):

8:30 a.m. Keynote Presentation: Vice President Al Gore, founder and chairman, The Climate Reality Project

9:15 a.m. Panel: Connecting Climate Change and Public Health: State of the Science, Moderator GHI Director Jonathan Patz

10:30 a.m. Special Keynote: Sir Andy Haines, London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine

11:05 a.m. Special Keynote: Laura Turner Seydel, The Turner Foundation, Mothers and Others for Clean Air

11:15 a.m. Special Keynote: Stephanie Benfield, Office of Sustainability, City of Atlanta

11:50 a.m. Panel: Protecting Public Health from Climate-Related Threats: Lessons From Across the Globe

1:15 p.m. Panel: Protecting Public Health From Climate Related threats: From Science to Practice in the United States

2:45 p.m. Panel: Communicating the Climate-Health Connection

3:45 p.m. Closing Remarks: Al Gore

Find full agenda details here.

By Ann Grauvogl/ February 14, 2017

GHI supports SVM researcher to help find Zika virus in Colombia, look for ways to stop it

Zika virus is transmitted by a specific mosquito called Aedes aegypti. The mosquito is common in Colombia and other countries where Zika has become prevalent. (Photo: James Gathany, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Zika virus is transmitted by a specific mosquito called Aedes aegypti. The mosquito is common in Colombia and other countries where Zika has become prevalent. (Photo: James Gathany, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

This story originally appeared on

In October 2015, a team of researchers at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Universidad de Sucre in Colombia ran the first tests confirming the presence of Zika virus transmission in the South American country.

In a study published Jan. 26, 2016 in the journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, the team documents a disease trajectory that started with nine positive patients and has now spread to more than 13,000 infected individuals in that country.

“Colombia is now only second to Brazil in the number of known Zika infections,” says study lead author Matthew Aliota, a research scientist in the UW–Madison School of Veterinary Medicine (SVM).

The Global Health Institute provided support for the paper’s first author, Erwin Camacho, a visiting doctoral student from Colombia and research specialist in the School of Veterinary Medicine. Camacho confirmed the virus was in Colombia, and from the positive samples, traced its origins to Brazil and to French Polynesia. Camacho, from the Universidad de Sucre, has been at UW-Madison working on the project since October. Students and technical workers like Erwin definitely play a major role in the research going on on campus,” Aliota says.

Zika virus, which spreads among humans via mosquitoes, causes illness characterized like many other viral infections by fever, rash and joint pain. Officials estimate that four out of five people who contract the virus do not get sick and the virus is rarely fatal. However, pregnant women in Brazil infected with Zika have given birth to babies with small heads and underdeveloped brains, a condition called microcephaly.

“If you’re pregnant or planning on being pregnant, absolutely, cancel your vacation,” says Aliota, echoing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warning that pregnant women not travel to the more than 20 countries now known to have active Zika transmission, like Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador and in the Caribbean. In these countries, mosquitoes are spreading the virus to people.

For the Colombian finding, Aliota and his research team, which includes GHI Advisory member Jorge Osorio, professor of pathobiological sciences at SVM, and two visiting doctoral students from Colombia, tested samples from 22 patients for the genetic fingerprints of Zika, dengue and chikungunya viruses.

Matthew Aliota

Matthew Aliota

Nine came back positive for Zika virus. Now, 13,500 cases have been identified in Colombia. The researchers’ findings highlight the need for better, more accurate laboratory diagnosis of Zika virus.

The symptoms of Zika virus are “really nonspecific and it overlaps with a lot of things, especially with dengue virus and chikungunya,” says Aliota. “It’s hard when someone comes in with a fever and a rash to narrow it down.”

Zika virus was first found in Uganda in 1947 but remained limited to Africa and Southeast Asia for decades. But in 2007, an outbreak occurred in the Pacific Islands and recently the virus began to spread in the Western Hemisphere.

“Historically, Zika virus has just caused mild disease, but as it moved into the New World, in Brazil, we started to notice these more serious consequences associated with it,” says Aliota. “There is a lot that is unknown.”

Aliota hopes to help change that.

His research on Zika virus and others like it is focused on how the viruses evolve and adapt to their hosts, including mosquitoes and humans. As he and the team show in the study, the Zika virus has split into two distinct lineages, African and Asian. The Colombia strain of the virus can be tracked to Brazil, which can be traced to a strain that originated in French Polynesia.

“There is certainly something different about these viruses that have allowed or facilitates this geographic expansion,” Aliota says.

He and Osorio are now looking for ways to control it. As members of the Eliminate Dengue Program, an international effort managed by Monash University in Melbourne, Australia, they have explored how a bacterium that infects 60 percent of insects around the world may be used as a tool to combat the spread of dengue and similar mosquito-borne viruses.

Transmission electron micrograph of Zika virus. (Photo: Cynthia Goldsmith, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Transmission electron micrograph of Zika virus. (Photo: Cynthia Goldsmith, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Zika, dengue and chikungunya (which are also found in Colombia) are RNA viruses, which refers to how they encode their genetic material, and each is transmitted by a specific mosquito called Aedes aegypti. The mosquito is common in Colombia and other countries where Zika has become prevalent.

The bacterium, Wolbachia, is not naturally found in the Aedes aegypti mosquito, but researchers with Eliminate Dengue have found that when they infect mosquitoes with the bacteria in the lab, it prevents them from transmitting dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever.

“The Eliminate Dengue Program is doing field experiments to see, will we be able to replace wild-type, existing populations of mosquitoes with these Wolbachia-infected ones and does it block dengue transmission?” Aliota says. “Now, we’re going to start looking at how that might be used for Zika virus control as well in South America.”

Here in Madison, Aliota is also trying to better understand how these viruses might evolve and adapt to this potential control strategy, to try to stay ahead of any potential issues they might encounter in the field.

But while Texas and Florida need to be on alert, Aliota says Wisconsinites need not be worried about transmission of Zika virus here.

“We’re not going to get Zika transmission in Wisconsin. We don’t have Aedes aegypti,” he says. “The cold winters are good for something.”

By Kelly April Tyrrell, University Communications/ January 26, 2016