Friday, March 27, 2015

Climate Change Is Spreading Diseases You Haven’t Even Heard of Yet

Daniel Brooks, happy and healthy in Hungary … for now. (Credit: Zsuzsanna Agoston) Click to Enlarge.
[A]ccording to Daniel Brooks, who’s been studying the rise of emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) for 40 years, the Hollywood model needs to be recalibrated in light of climate change.

“It’s not that there’s going to be one Andromeda Strain that will wipe out everybody on the planet,” says Brooks, professor emeritus at Toronto University and a senior research fellow at the University of Nebraska’s H.W. Manter Parasitology Lab.  “There are going to be a lot of localized outbreaks that put a lot of pressure on our medical and veterinary health systems.  There won’t be enough money to keep up with all of it.  It will be the death of a thousand cuts.”

Brooks, whose article on the relationship between these new diseases and climate change was published last month in the journal Philosophical Transactions, claims that evolutionary history suggests EIDs spike along with major climate change events.  When organisms flee their native habitats in search of more amenable climates, they expose themselves to pathogens they’ve never encountered — and to which they haven’t developed a resistance. Human activities only serve to accelerate this process, Brooks says, scattering organisms across the planet at an unprecedented rate.

The idea — called the “Stockholm Paradigm,” by Brooks and coauthor Eric Hoberg — runs counter to earlier host-pathogen theories, which generally assumed that because pathogens evolve in tandem with their hosts, they couldn’t easily switch to new ones.  Under the new paradigm, diseases can and do jump hosts when given an opportunity, leading to crossover diseases we may have never dealt with before.
“Pathogens that jump into human beings, like Ebola or West Nile Virus — they’re only part of a larger story,” Brooks says.  “If you think of every species of plant and animal on this planet that human beings depend on — every single crop, livestock, wild species, everything — all of them are going to experience some kind of emerging disease over the next 35 to 50 years.”

Regardless of the severity of each individual outbreak, humans will be left to foot the economic bill, to clean up what Brooks and his colleagues call “pathogen pollution.”  And the costs could add up quickly.

“Either these diseases are going to reduce the population of the animals or the plants, and that’s going to hurt people economically, or it’s going to cost people a lot of money to try to treat them,” he says.  “Either way, because most of the world’s biodiversity is where most of the world’s poor people live, disproportionately poor societies are going to be hit the hardest.”

Read more at Climate Change Is Spreading Diseases You Haven’t Even Heard of Yet

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