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close this bookHealth and Environment in Sustainable Development - Five years after the Earth Summit (WHO, 1997, 258 pages)
View the document(introductory text...)
View the documentMessage from the Director-General
View the documentAbout this book
View the documentAbbreviations and acronyms
View the documentUnits of measurements
Open this folder and view contentsChapter 1: A new perspective on health
Open this folder and view contentsChapter 2: Driving forces behind current health-and-environment trends
Open this folder and view contentsChapter 3: Major human activities affecting environmental quality
Open this folder and view contentsChapter 4: Poor environmental quality, exposures and risks
Open this folder and view contentsChapter 5: Health conditions in an environmental context
Open this folder and view contentsChapter 6: Integrated policies, strategies and actions: progress since the earth summit
View the documentChapter 7: Conclusions
View the documentGlossary
View the documentReferences
View the documentAnnex A: Country groupings by development and by geographic region
View the documentAnnex B: Countries providing data for WHO/UNICEF (1996a)
View the documentEnvironmental health contact points in WHO Regional Offices and WHO Environmental Health Regional Technical Centres


This glossary has been produced to be of help to readers of this particular text. It has been compiled with the aid of a number of glossaries and dictionaries, and as such should not be considered to be an approved glossary of WHO.

algal bloom: abnormally increased biomass of algae in a lake, river or ocean.

aliphatic hydrocarbons: chemical compounds including carbon and hydrogen with a straight structure.

aromatic hydrocarbons: chemical compounds including carbon and hydrogen with a structure including at least one benzene ring.

ascariasis: disease caused by infection with Ascaris or related ascarid nematodes.

ascites: accumulation of serous fluid in the abdominal cavity.

atherosclerosis: a disease in which fat compounds build up on the inside of arteries, potentially blocking blood flow.

atmosphere: gaseous envelope that surrounds Earth and which is subdivided into the troposphere, stratosphere and mesosphere.

attenuated vaccine: vaccine based on live infectious material that has been treated in such a way that it creates an antibody response but does not cause the disease.

attributable risk: the proportion of a disease or other outcome in exposed individuals that can be attributed to the exposure of interest.

biofuel: renewable hydrocarbon fuel, usually alcohol, e.g. methanol, ethanol, derived from corn (maize) and other grains.

"blackfoot disease": disease reported in China of the peripheral blood vessels which is caused by arsenic exposure. The disease constricts the arteries, the blood flow is diminished and the feet look black.

chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs): halocarbons that are major greenhouse gases. CFCs are of human origin and have long atmospheric lifetimes (more than 100 years). They are destroyed only by photolytic destruction in the stratosphere where they cause ozone depletion.

coliform: general, ill-defined term used to denote gram-negative, fermentative rods that inhabit the intestinal tract of man and other animals.

copepod: any member of the subclass Copepoda. (Copepoda are abundant, freeliving, freshwater and marine crustaceans of fundamental importance to the aquatic food-chain in both marine and freshwater environments.)

cor pulmonale: in chronic cases characterized by hypertrophy of the right ventricle, resulting from disease of the lungs; in acute cases, characterized by dilation and failure of the right side of the heart due to pulmonary embolism.

Cryptosporidium: genus of coccidian sporozoans that are important pathogens of calves and other domestic animals, and common opportunistic parasites of humans that flourish under conditions of compromised immune function.

cutaneous melanoma: type of skin cancer. A melanoma is a malignant neoplasm, derived from cells that are capable of forming melanin.

cyanobacterial poisoning: reaction to the toxins produced by cyanobacteria.

dengue fever: disease of tropical and sub-tropical regions, caused by mosquitotransmitted dengue viruses.

dracunculiasis: also called guinea-worm disease, caused by a parasite whose larvae can grow under the skin, reaching up to one metre in length.

El Niño: name originally given by local inhabitants to a weak warm ocean current flowing along the coast of Ecuador and Peru. El Niño occurs irregularly, but approximately every four years on average.

endemic disease: the constant presence of a disease or infectious agent within a given geographic area or population group; may also refer to the usual prevalence of a given disease within such area or group.

epidemic: the occurrence in a community or region of cases of an illness, specific health-related behaviour or other health-related events clearly in excess of normal expectancy.

erethism: an abnormal state of excitement, irritation or sensitivity to stimulation, either general or local.

eutrophication: the occurrence of high nutrient levels in freshwater and marine ecosystems, usually resulting in excessive plant growth and the death of animal and some plant life due to oxygen deprivation

filariasis: presence of filariae in the body, occurring in tropical and subtropical regions.

fluorosis: condition caused by an excessive intake of fluorides, characterized mainly by mottling, staining, or hypoplasia of the enamel of the teeth.

food security: a situation in which all households have both physical and economic access to adequate food for all members and where households are not at risk of losing such access.

free radical: highly reactive chemical molecule that has at least one unpaired electron.

greenhouse gas: gas that absorbs radiation emitted by Earth's surface and clouds. The effect is a local trapping of part of the absorbed energy and a tendency to warm Earth's surface. Water vapour, carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide, methane, and ozone are the primary greenhouse gases in Earth's atmosphere.

half-life: period during which the radioactivity of a radioactive substance decreases to half of its original value; similarly applied to the decrease in activity of any unstable active substance with time.

halocarbons: generic term to describe a group of human-made chemicals that contains carbon and members of the halogen family. Halocarbons include chlorofluorocarbons and haloes, substances that deplete stratospheric ozone.

haloes: various gaseous compounds of carbon, bromine and other halogens, usually bromoflouromethanes, used to extinguish fires, that contribute to destruction of stratospheric ozone.

helminth: intestinal vermiform parasite; primarily nematodes, cestodes, trematodes, and acanthocephalans.

hepatomegaly: enlargement of the liver.

incidence: the number of cases of illness commencing, or of persons falling ill, during a given time period within a specified population.

Internet: global computer network providing access to and dissemination of a vast amount of information.

ionizing radiation: electromagnetic or particle radiation of a sufficient energy to cause ionization in biological cells.

isotope: one of two or more nuclides that are chemically identical yet differ in mass number.

Japanese encephalitis: encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) caused by a mosquito-transmitted Flavivirus, affecting large populations in ricegrowing, suburban, and rural regions of South-East Asia.

keratosis: any lesion on the epidermis marked by the presence of circumscribed overgrowths of the horny layer.

leishmaniasis: infection with a species of Leishmania; transmission is by various sandfly species of the genus Phlebotomus or Lutzomyia.

leptospirosis: illnesses caused by infection with Leptospira; transmission is associated with contact with infected animals or water contaminated with rat urine.

manufacturing value added: the difference between the value of goods and the cost of materials or supplies that are used in producing them. Value added is derived by subtracting the cost of raw materials, parts, supplies, fuel, goods purchased for resale, electric energy, and contract work from the value of shipments. It is the best money gauge of the relative economic importance of a manufacturing industry because it measures that industry's contribution to the economy rather than its gross sales.

mesothelioma: a cancer in the mesothelial tissues, usually in the lining of the lung.

nuclide: particular (atomic) nuclear species with defined atomic mass and number.

oblast: Russian word for "region".

odds ratio: epidemiological term used to express the relative risk of disease when comparing groups. It is the ratio of the odds of exposure among the cases of disease to the odds of exposure in the controls.

oedema: swelling caused by the accumulation of fluid in body tissues.

onchocerciasis: tropical disease caused by a filarial parasite transmitted by blackflies.

ozone: form of the element oxygen with three atoms instead of the two that characterize normal oxygen molecules. Ozone (O3) is an important greenhouse gas. The stratosphere contains 90% of all the O3 present in the atmosphere that absorbs harmful ultraviolet radiation.

pH: measure of the acidity or alkalinity of a solution, ranging from 0 (acidic) to 7 (neutral) to 14 (alkaline).

parenchymal lung disease: disease of lung due to its disfunction.

peripheral neuropathy: disease involving the peripheral nerves.

peripheral vascular disease: disease of the peripheral blood vessels

pertussis: commonly called whooping cough, caused by Bordetella pertussis.

photovoltaic: term applied to devices that creates electricity when exposed to light.

"polluter pays" principle: a system of charges on the person or company that cause pollution.

primary health care: essential health care made accessible at a cost the country and community can afford, with methods that are practical, scientifically sound and socially acceptable.

prevalence: proportion of persons within a given population who are currently affected by a particular disease or risk factor.

radiative forcing: a simple measure of the importance of a potential climate change mechanism. The amount of perturbation of the energy balance of the Earth-atmosphere system following, for example, a change in carbon dioxide concentrations or a change in the output of the sun.

radionuclide: a nuclide of artificial or natural origin that exhibits radioactivity.

radon: radioactive element, resulting from the breakdown of radium.

relative risk: ratio of risk of occurrence of a disease in one group as compared to the risk of occurrence in another group.

residual house-spraying: spraying of the internal walls of houses with an insecticide in formulation and dose that ensures prolonged (i.e. residual) action.

rotavirus: wheel-shaped virus that causes infantile acute gastroenteritis and diarrhoea.

schistosomiasis: infection with species of Schistosoma. Manifestations of this disease vary with the infecting species.

secondary (photochemical) pollutants: air pollutants created by chemical reactions in the atmosphere from other pollutants that have been emitted from motor vehicles or industry.

serotype: group or category of bacteria or other microorganisms that have a certain set of antigens in common or against which common antibodies are produced; the combination of antigens by which such a group is categorized.

stomatitis: inflammation of the mucous membrane of the mouth.

stratosphere: highly stratified and stable region of the atmosphere above the troposphere extending from about 10 km to 50 km.

subclinical: without clinical manifestations; generally the early stage of an infection or other disease before symptoms and signs become clinically apparent.

trachoma: infectious inflammation of the eye, often associated with lack of water for personal hygiene.

teratogenesis: a process that damages the growth of the fetus in utero.

trematode: flat worm of the class Trematoda, including the parasitic worms called "flukes". Trematodes that cause disease in humans have intermediate stages in snails.

troposphere: lowest part of the atmosphere in which clouds and weather phenomena occur. The troposphere is defined as the region in which temperatures generally decrease with height.

trypanosomiasis: infection with protozoa, Trypanosoma including American trypanosomiasis (Chagas disease) or African trypanosomiasis.

vibrio: type of actively mobile bacteria. The species include the cholera vibrios, highly pathogenic for humans.

zoonosis: infectious disease of vertebrate animals, such as rabies, that can be transmitted to humans.