Climate change could increase risk of new infectious disease, study says

(AP) — Climate change will result in thousands of new viruses spreading among animal species by 2070 — and that is likely to increase the risk of emerging infectious diseases jumping from animals to humans, according to a new study.

This is especially true for Africa and Asia, continents that have been hotspots for the spread of deadly diseases from humans to animals or vice versa for the past few decades, including flu, HIV, Ebola and the coronavirus.

The researchers, who published their findings Thursday in the journal Nature, used the model to examine how more than 3,000 mammal species could migrate and share viruses over the next 50 years if the world warmed to 2 degrees Celsius (3.6 degrees Fahrenheit), the researchers showed. latest research. it is possible.

They found that the spread of the virus across species would occur more than 4,000 times between mammals alone. Birds and marine animals were not included in this study.

Researchers say not all viruses will spread to humans or become a coronavirus-scale pandemic, but the number of viruses across species increases the risk of spreading to humans.

The study highlights two global crises – climate change and the spread of infectious diseases – as the world grapples with what to do about both.

Previous research has looked at how deforestation and the extinction and trade of wildlife cause the spread of animal-human diseases, but there is less research on how climate change might affect this type of disease transmission, the researchers said at a press conference Wednesday.

“We don’t talk much about climate in the context of zoonoses,” or diseases that can spread from animals to humans, said study co-author Colin Carlson, assistant professor of biology at Georgetown University. “Our study … brings together two of the most pressing global crises we have.”

Climate change and infectious disease experts agree that a warming planet is likely to increase the risk of new viruses emerging.

Daniel R. Brooks, a biologist at the University of Nebraska State Museum and co-author of the book “The Stockholm Paradigm: Climate Change and Emerging Diseases”, said the study recognized the threat posed by climate change in terms of increased risk of infectious diseases. .

“This particular contribution is a very conservative estimate of the potential” spread of emerging infectious diseases caused by climate change, Brooks said.

Aaron Bernstein, a pediatrician and interim director of the Center for Global Climate, Health and Environment at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, said the study confirmed longstanding suspicions about the impact of warming on the emergence of infectious diseases.

” Of particular note is that this study suggests that these encounters may already be occurring with greater frequency and in places close to where many people live , ” Bernstein said .

Study co-author Gregory Albery, a disease ecologist at Georgetown University, said that as the emergence of climate-driven infectious diseases is likely already happening, the world must do more to study and prepare for it.

“This cannot be prevented, even in the best-case scenario of climate change,” Albery said.

Carlson, who is also the author of a recent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said we must reduce greenhouse gases and eliminate fossil fuels to reduce the risk of spreading infectious diseases.

Jaron Browne, managing director of climate justice group Grassroots Global Justice Alliance, said the research highlights climate injustices experienced by people living in African and Asian countries.

“African and Asian countries face the greatest threat from increased exposure to the virus, again illustrating how those on the front lines of crises are very often doing the least to create climate change,” Browne said.

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Follow Drew Costley on Twitter: @drewcostley

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