Climate change linked to spread of new diseases

Signal of change / Climate change linked to spread of new diseases

By Laura Picot / 10 Apr 2015

New research published by the Royal Society [of London for Improving Natural Knowledge] suggests that emerging infectious diseases (EIDs) are spreading and diversifying due to climate change. Climate change is causing organisms to leave their native ranges at an unprecedented rate and move to new areas in search of more hospitable habitats. Here they may be exposed to infection by new pathogens to which they have no resistance. The switching of EIDs to these new hosts results in crossover diseases that we have never before encountered.

The most famous example of this is the recent Ebola outbreak, triggered by humans moving into new landscapes and being exposed to the fruit bat virus. However, the danger is not just in human illness. All species that we depend on, such as crops and livestock, are likely to be susceptible to unforeseen diseases in the next 35 to 50 years. Such outbreaks are already emerging, for example the Brazilian mangrove land crab population has been almost eliminated in recent years by a fungus, hitting local coastal communities hard who rely on it as a food source and cash crop.

Image: NIAID / Flickr

So what?

Professor David Brooks of Toronto University, one of the researchers, warns that “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.”

The effects and distribution of EIDs are hard to predict and could have catastrophic consequences to ecosystem services and biodiversity, resulting in significant economic pressures and inequalities. “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,” Brooks 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.”

 

Sources

Eric P. Hoberg and Daniel R. Brooks (2015, February 16) Evolution in action: climate change, biodiversity dynamics and emerging infectious disease

Grist (2015, March 26) Climate change is spreading diseases you haven’t even heard of yet

Vania A. Vicente et al. (2012, July 6) Black yeast-like fungi associated with Lethargic Crab Disease (LCD) in the mangrove-land crab, Ucides cordatus (Ocypodidae)

What might the implications of this be? What related signals of change have you seen?

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