8.2.10 Ultraviolet radiation and health
Solar ultraviolet radiation (UVR) exposure causes a range of health impacts. Globally, excessive solar UVR exposure has caused the loss of approximately 1.5 million disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) (0.1% of the total global burden of disease) and 60,000 premature deaths in the year 2000. The greatest burdens result from UVR-induced cortical cataracts, cutaneous malignant melanoma, and sunburn (although the latter estimates are highly uncertain due to the paucity of data) (Prüss-Üstün et al., 2006). UVR exposure may weaken the immune response to certain vaccinations, which would reduce their effectiveness. However, there are also important health benefits: exposure to radiation in the ultraviolet B frequency band is required for the production of vitamin D in the body. Lack of sun exposure may lead to osteomalacia (rickets) and other disorders caused by vitamin D deficiencies.
Climate change will alter human exposure to UVR exposure in several ways, although the balance of effects is difficult to predict and will vary depending on location and present exposure to UVR. Greenhouse-induced cooling of the stratosphere is expected to prolong the effect of ozone-depleting gases, which will increase levels of UVR reaching some parts of the Earth’s surface (Beggs, 2005; IPCC/TEAP, 2005). Climate change will alter the distribution of clouds which will, in turn, affect UVR levels at the surface. Higher ambient temperatures will influence clothing choices and time spent outdoors, potentially increasing UVR exposure in some regions and decreasing it in others. If immune function is impaired and vaccine efficacy is reduced, the effects of climate-related shifts in infections may be greater than would occur in the absence of high UVR levels (Zwander, 2002; de Gruijl et al., 2003; Holick, 2004; Gallagher and Lee, 2006; Samanek et al., 2006).