Killer heat waves. Fierce storms. Devastating floods. Natural disasters have been all over the news, and according to organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and World Health Organization (WHO), the increase is no coincidence: It's actually a direct result of global warming. But in addition to the initial destruction these catastrophes cause, the after-effects on human health can be just as, if not more, tragic.

According to WHO estimates, climate change is responsible for at least 150,000 extra deaths a year-a figure that is expected to double by 2030. In July 2008, the EPA released a report (commissioned by the U.S. Climate Change Science Program) on the health effects of climate change. In the 149-page document, the experts laid out the grave risks that global warming poses to people and to the food, energy, and water on which society depends. The document also suggests that extreme weather events and diseases carried by insects and other organisms could kill more people as temperatures rise. Here, some of the frightening ways in which global warming could affect human health.

1. Mosquito-borne Illness. In the coming years, that mosquito buzzing on your leg could be more than just a pesky nuisance-it could be carrying a dangerous disease. Due to climate changes, the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) foresees the possible spread of mosquito-borne illnesses such as malaria, dengue fever, yellow fever, and encephalitis. Harvard Medical School's Center for Health and the Global Environment noted that in the United States, ticks, mosquitoes, and other insects that carry diseases-such as West Nile Virus, Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever, Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) and Lyme disease- are already spreading to areas once considered too cold for them to survive.

2. Allergies. According to Harvard's Center for Health and the Global Environment, ragweed and other pollen-producing plants thrive on carbon dioxide. As carbon emissions (from cars, planes, buildings, and power plants) to the environment increase, these plants will churn out even more pollen and could flourish in areas where they are sparse now. People with allergies could see their symptoms worsen or last longer. And for those people who have asthma and allergies, prolonged allergy suffering could trigger more asthma attacks.  

3. Respiratory Illness. The air quality is expected to worsen over time, as fossil fuels continue to pollute the air. In addition, the Natural Resources Defense Council says that warmer temperatures can lead to more droughts, in turn causing more wildfires, particularly in places like California. These wildfires pollute the air, resulting in poor air quality, and, if EPA predictions are correct, a possible worsening of COPD and other respiratory illnesses.

4. Water-borne Illness. An increase in the number of hurricanes annually is one possible consequence of global warming. Hurricane Katrina demonstrated how the water from a hurricane can arguably do more damage than the high winds. In 2005, 80 percent of New Orleans eventually became flooded, and the high waters lingered for weeks. The result was a host of waterborne illnesses, contributing to additional sickness and death. Examples of infectious diseases that can thrive in water include malaria and dengue fever. Frighteningly enough, lack of water supplies as well as poor water quality are already major health problems worldwide: Approximately 1.8 million people, mostly children, die each year from diarrhea diseases caused by contaminated water, according to the EPA, and climate change will just make those numbers grow.

5. Food-borne Illness. According to the CDC, some 250 food-borne diseases are caused by a myriad of bacteria, viruses, and parasites. And each year, these diseases are responsible for making about 76 million people sick in the United States. Of these 76 million, 325,000 are hospitalized and 5,000 die. Frighteningly enough, with rising temperatures, instances of food-borne illnesses, such as salmonella, are expected to grow.

The most vulnerable members of society, including children, the elderly, and those who are socio-economically disadvantaged are expected to be the hardest hit by these health problems. In response, the CDC is in the midst of creating an action plan to address the health risks posed by the atmosphere's ever-rising temperatures.