Climate change causing more infectious diseases to arise: Study

By Staff Reporter - 17 Feb '15 00:39AM
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According to Daniel Brooks of the Laboratory of Parasitology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, the appearance of diseases in new places and new hosts will be par for the course as the climate continues to change. We have already seen this to an extent with diseases such as West Nile virus and Ebola, but those won't be the last.

Professor Brooks says it will be 'the death of a thousand cuts' with society unable to keep up with the speed of disease as it spreads around the world.

"It's not that there's going to be one 'Andromeda Strain' that will wipe everybody out on the planet," Brooks said, referring to the 1971 science fiction film about a deadly pathogen. "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."

Each has observed the arrival of species that hadn't previously lived in that area and the departure of others, Brooks said.

"Over the last 30 years, the places we've been working have been heavily impacted by climate change," Brooks said in an interview last week. "Even though I was in the tropics and he was in the Arctic, we could see something was happening." Changes in habitat mean animals are exposed to new parasites and pathogens.

Brooks calls it the "parasite paradox." Over time, hosts and pathogens become more tightly adapted to one another. According to previous theories, this should make emerging diseases rare, because they have to wait for the right random mutation to occur. However, such jumps happen more quickly than anticipated. Even pathogens that are highly adapted to one host are able to shift to new ones under the right circumstances.

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