Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Climate Change Opens New Doors to Deadly Diseases

Howler monkeys are infected with parasites once limited to species hunted out of existence in parts of Costa Rica. (Credit: Daniel Brooks Photography) Click to Enlarge.
Disease emergencies such as the eruption of Ebola in West Africa or the spread of West Nile virus in North America may be a consequence of climate change − and could become more frequent as the world warms, according to scientists.

That is because the change in climate conditions means that the insects that transmit diseases, and the animal hosts that serve as a natural reservoir of infection, can spread to new territories.

Malaria, which kills 600,000 people a year, has moved to higher latitudes and higher altitudes, claiming new victims.

But, the scientists argue, the issue is wider than that.  Ease of travel, the international traffic of large volumes of crops and animal products, and increasing human disruption of ecosystems are all factors in the spread of what they call emerging infectious diseases (EID).

Agents of disease
And there could be yet another factor:  humans haven’t completely appreciated just how opportunistic parasites and other agents of disease can be.

Zoologists Daniel Brooks, of the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, and Eric Hoberg, of the US National Parasite Collection, argue in the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society that changes in climate will mean changes in habitat.  And changes in habitat will mean that animals are exposed to new pathogens – anything that causes a disease – and parasites.
“There are going to be a lot of localized outbreaks putting pressure on medical and veterinary health systems,” Professor Brooks says.  “It will be the death of a thousand cuts.”

Infectious microbes evolved to survive in a natural host, occasionally spreading to a new host.  The assumption has been that because evolution is a gradual process, new host infections would be rare.  But microbes have turned out to be much more resourceful.

Read more at Climate Change Opens New Doors to Deadly Diseases

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