Could a changing climate and changing environments have an impact on the spread of infectious diseases? Several zoologists are saying yes!
Zoologist Daniel Brooks of the Harold W. Manter Laboratory of Parasitology at the Univ. of Nebraska-Lincoln states the spread of infectious diseases like the West Nile Virus and Ebola could be linked to climate change.
Changes to an environment many times causes animals to migrate to places they otherwise wouldn’t have gone before. If those animals carry diseases, they could introduce them to a new population.
“It’s not that there’s going to be one ‘Andromeda Strain’ that will wipe everybody out on the planet,” Daniel Brooks stated in a recent news release. “There are going to be a lot of localized outbreaks putting pressure on medical and veterinary health systems. It will be the death of a thousand cuts.”
“Over the last 30 years, the places we’ve been working have been heavily impacted by climate change,” Brooks stated. “Even though I was in the tropics, I was also working with several zoologists in the Arctic, we could see something was happening. Changes in habitat mean animals are exposed to new parasites and pathogens.”
West Nile Virus is a prime example of this phenomenon, going from an acute problem in North America and escalating into a recurring problem in multiple locations around the world.
Scholars are now urged to consider that pathogens retain genetic aspects which enable them to adopt new hosts; a claim that goes against more than 100 years of evidence suggesting that parasites don’t quickly change hosts. Brooks said this factor allows many infectious diseases to spread to new locations despite lacking a common host .
While some diseases can’t be transmitted from animals to humans immediately, that can change over time. “Given enough exposure and time, any disease can eventually mutate into a human to human transmittable disease. History is full of such occurrences,” Dan Hahn, emergency manager of Santa Rosa County, Fla., said. “The Black Death of 13th century Europe was caused by rats transmitting bubonic plague, but historical data suggests deaths occurred too rapidly for this to have been a bubonic epidemic, so recent archaeological evidence through DNA sampling of corpses buried around London has confirmed that it was pneumonic plague, a much faster acting killer, that wiped out large parts of the London population. Ebola, likewise, has had its origins traced to animals in Africa.”
Climate change also promotes the spread of other insect-borne infectious diseases such as malaria and dengue fever, according to recent studies. In addition to animal migration and disease advancements, climate changes also cause destruction of housing and public health infrastructure through storms and floods that result in injuries and unsanitary conditions. From a global perspective, complete preparation requires strengthening the weakest links in the world where diseases can run rampant.
How to prepare
Protecting yourself from infectious diseases can sometimes be difficult, but there are precautions that can be taken to better prepare yourself.
Proper hygiene and up-to-date immunizations protect individuals from a lot of diseases. Always be aware of infectious diseases that are prevalent where you live. When traveling, always look up health threats at your destination and how to protect yourself against them. For a current list of any prevalent health concerns in any location of the world visit the Center for Disease Control and Protection website at http://wwwnc.cdc.gov/travel/destinations/list/ .