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Public Health

Some health effects of drought are easy to observe and measure, but drought’s slow rise can result in indirect health implications that are more difficult to recognize.

Drought and Public Health

A mosquito on a leaf

 

Over the last century, droughts have caused more deaths internationally than any other weather- or climate-related disaster. In the United States, drought impacts on public health include changes in air quality, changes in water quality and quantity, increased incidence of illness and disease, and mental health effects.

 

Data, Maps, and Tools

Vulnerable populations—people living in neighborhoods with social factors such as poverty, lack of vehicle access, or crowded housing—may be disproportionately affected by drought impacts. 

Public Health and Drought Conditions

This map shows the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's 2018 Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) designations alongside current drought conditions from the U.S. Drought Monitor. The SVI uses 15 U.S. census variables at tract level (e.g., poverty, lack of vehicle access, crowded housing) to help local officials identify communities that may need support in preparing for or recovering from hazards, like drought. Learn more.

This map shows current National Weather Service Heat Advisories, Excessive Heat Watches, and Excessive Heat Warnings alongside drought conditions from the U.S. Drought Monitor. View all current warnings on Weather.gov.

Social Vulnerability Index (SVI)

The color with the hex code #225ea8 identifies:
High SVI Areas in Drought

U.S. Drought Monitor

The color with the hex code #ffff00 identifies:
D0
The color with the hex code #ffcc99 identifies:
D1
The color with the hex code #ff6600 identifies:
D2
The color with the hex code #ff0000 identifies:
D3
The color with the hex code #660000 identifies:
D4

Heat Warnings

The color with the hex code #b64e6d identifies:
Areas under Heat Advisories
The color with the hex code #6e3a9a identifies:
Areas under Excessive Heat Warnings
The color with the hex code #36185e identifies:
Areas under Excessive Heat Watches

U.S. Drought Monitor

The color with the hex code #ffff00 identifies:
D0
The color with the hex code #ffcc99 identifies:
D1
The color with the hex code #ff6600 identifies:
D2
The color with the hex code #ff0000 identifies:
D3
The color with the hex code #660000 identifies:
D4
Updates Weekly  -  01/21/21
Updates Weekly  -  01/21/21

Impacts and Related Content

Air Quality

Air quality can decrease during drought events as a result of dust storms or wildfires. Particulates in the air irritate the lungs and bronchial passages and exacerbate chronic respiratory conditions.

Increased Incidence of Illness and Disease

Drought conditions can change how often and where certain diseases occur. For instance, mosquitoes that carry West Nile virus can move to new locations when water bodies become stagnant and create new breeding grounds. Also, there is a higher risk for contracting a lung infection called Valley Fever, caused by a fungus in the soil, in dry and dusty soil conditions. 

Mental Health Impacts

Complex relationships between drought and its associated economic consequences can increase mood disorders, domestic violence, and suicide. 

By Sector | Public Health

The impacts of drought on hospital admissions and deaths depend on drought severity and the history of droughts in a region. Learn more about drought's impacts on the public health sector.