Adverse human and animal health effects in desert environments

Humans and animals can be adversely affected by toxic or venomous organisms or compounds in desert environments in a number of ways. Intoxication and envenomation can be accidental, with the person or animal surprising or being surprised by the venomous creature. In certain cases, intoxication can be deliberate, as shown by the deliberate ingestion of certain toxins in desert environments with the end result of experiencing hallucinations. In some other cases, the ingestion of toxins may be completely unknown. A regular feature of desert ecosystems is sandstorms. During these events, winds carry large amounts of desert dusts, sometimes for thousands of miles, before depositing the sand in completely different environments. In deserts, sandstorms can cause allergic and asthmatic health effects, sometimes leading to a large number of cases reported in these environments. Dusts from such sandstorms are known to contain large amounts of fungi, viruses, and bacteria, in addition to irritant toxins such as lipopolysaccharides (Griffin et al., 2007).  These may be responsible for the high incidence of human pulmonary effects after exposure to sandstorms.

Griffin, D.W. (2007). Atmospheric movement of microorganisms in clouds of desert dust and implications for human health. Clinical Microbiology Reviews 20: 459-477.

Dietary exposure to an environmental toxin triggers neurofibrillary tangles and amyloid deposits in the brain