Ecocentric

Infectious Disease Could Become More Common in a Warmer World — Especially for Plants and Animals

Climate change will make it easier for many infectious diseases to spread. Human beings will be able to adapt — or at least the richer ones will. But biodiversity will suffer as parasites and bacteria find a more welcoming environment

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Joao Paulo Burini via Getty Images

Dengue fever, carried by the Aedes aegypti mosquito, will become a bigger threat as the climate warms

The venerable Science magazine has a special issue out today on climate change. Some of the content is free, and it’s well worth checking out. That includes an article on one of the most important and perplexing areas in global-warming research: the possible connection between a changing climate and a growing threat from infectious disease.

It’s been known for a while that warming temperatures could help certain diseases. Malaria, which kills about 650,000 people a year, thrives in the hot and humid areas where the Anopheles mosquito can live. As the climate warms, the territory where the mosquito and the malaria parasite will be able to live will likely expand, putting more people at risk. Already dengue fever, another mosquito-borne tropical disease, has re-established itself in the Florida Keys, where it was wiped out decades ago. Tropical diseases will loom that much larger in a warmer world, as host-parasite cycles accelerate. In the Arctic, which is warming faster than any other region on the planet, higher temperatures are allowing parasites like the lungworm, which afflicts musk oxen, to develop faster and be transmitted over longer periods.

(MORE: Shifting Baselines: Why the Environment Is Even Worse Off Than You Think)

But as the Science study — by American and Canadian researchers — points out, the connection between climate change and disease is actually a lot more complicated than that. It’s true that warmer temperatures may be helping dengue fever to return to the Florida Keys, but the disease was initially vanquished in the 20th century not because the climate was cooler, but because public-health officials systematically controlled mosquito populations, cutting off the spread of the dengue virus. Both Singapore and Burma are tropical countries well within the malaria belt, but rich, urban Singapore has largely eliminated malaria, while the disease is still common in impoverished, rural Burma. (I should know — I contracted a mild case of malaria while reporting along the Thai-Burmese border in 2005.) Health care infrastructure and wealth — or lack it — have a lot more to do with the spread of infectious disease than climate change does, and that will continue to be the case even as the globe warms.

Still, the study points out that climate change will be a major factor in the spread of infectious disease in the future — and the impact is likely to be even greater in wildlife and agricultural systems, which aren’t likely to be able to react as quickly as human beings can. In the Caribbean, where I was just on a reporting trip, warmer water temperatures have stressed vulnerable corals, which then leaves them less able to fight off infections by pathogenic fungi and bacteria. Whole species of coral in the Caribbean have been lost thanks to the rapid spread of disease — and since corals are the framework builders of the marine ecosystems, other species can quickly follow them into oblivion.

As co-author Richard Ostfeld of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies in Millbrook, N.Y., put it in a statement:

Biodiversity loss is a well-established consequence of climate change. In a number of infectious disease systems, such as Lyme disease and West Nile virus, biodiversity loss is tied to greater pathogen transmission and increased human risk. Moving forward, we need models that are sensitive to both direct and indirect effects of climate change on infectious disease.

Climate change is likely to impact infectious disease just as it will impact other areas of life. Human beings — especially relatively rich ones — will muddle through, adapting to a warmer, more parasite-ridden world. Plants and animals, though, won’t be able to adapt as fast, or perhaps at all. Good thing we don’t need them. Right?

MORE: We Are All Climate Change Deniers

13 comments
JackWolf
JackWolf

That "Could Become" should be edited to say "Has Begun".  Call the Whitehouse and remind POTUS of his 2008 promises to reduce emissions, or his legacy will be damned for good.  His work on the Affordable Care Act will be nothing when compared to the impacts of abrupt climate change.

nicasio.martinez.nm
nicasio.martinez.nm

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Dengue Fever!Never is best... Once isunfortunate-- Never again is possible! I'm sending this link and hope it will post. A naturopathic practitioner personally contracted dengue fever and tells how she discovered natural remedies that work:


Philippine Daily Inquirer, 27 August 2011

My wife's teen son contracted dengue fever and we received the doctor's okay for him to drink camote (sweet potato) tea. Wash sweet potato leaves, bring at least three cups of water to a boil, put in leaves, lower heat to a simmering boil, 5/minutes. If fever is present, let cool, drink without adding anything to the tea. Drink 3x/day for as many days as necessary. I drink a cup of camote or papaya leaf tea every morning for breakfast. This is the simplist known cure. It and other natural cures are ignored and often advised against by doctors.


I am not qualified to give medical advice and should not be taken as such. Reading the link above, you will learn what a medical professional did to cure her personal experience with dengue fever. /Nicasio Martinez

KevinWorldsavior
KevinWorldsavior

Climate change will in no way affect everybody's perfect health. We humans got the power of being as healthy as Gods. Doing the Immunizer, all of us - kids and adults - will become any bugs and cancers killers.

In fact the war against cancers and infectious diseases on Earth can be considered won. Because any of them can be wiped out immediately (everybody being his/her own Jesus) just by doing an exercise (incredible as it may seem) - the Immunizer - just a simple exercise for a minute a day for kids and adults as the full prevention of any diseases - from the common cold to cancer. If done for 3 - 4 minutes a day, the immunizer will guarantee a very fast recovery from any viral and other infections and any forms of cancer at any stage. No killer viruses, bacteria, germs and cancers on Earth got any chance against the tremendous power of the immunizer - they just die the moment they touch you.

The price to disclose the Immunizer to the whole world is 2,25 Trillion US Dollars, or BP, but can be negotiated with the appropriate political, financial and medicare institutions worldwide.

In fact all of us - kids and adults - will stay as healthy as Gods on our planet Earth (regardless of age, environmental and occupational exposure and lifestyle - like smoking, diet, sex life, stress, sexual orientation, obesity, etc.) now and for generations to come.

Further details of the incredible Immunizer are available upon request.

KevinWorldsavior
KevinWorldsavior

Climate change will in no way affect prople's good health. We humans got the power

PhillipNoe
PhillipNoe

This is another nasty effect of climate change.  Contact your Congressional reps and insist they work harder to reduce global emissions.  Just dealing with the changes is not enough.  Our future generations are more at risk if we continue with business as usual.  If your Congressmen/women won't act, ask them to justify their inactions and see that they are replaced in the next election cycle.

BabuG.Ranganathan
BabuG.Ranganathan

CHEMOTHERAPY SUCCESS WITH ALOE VERA! This is a must read Internet article for all those diagnosed with cancer or who have a loved one who is. Just google the title to access the article.

Numerous scientific studies at universities and colleges have shown that the Aloe vera plant contains a myriad of nutrients to help prevent and heal various diseases (including cancer and diseases that result from obesity).

When taking aloe vera during chemotherapy, healthy cells are able to utilize the ingredients in aloe vera for protection against the debilitating effects of chemo, which results in the chemo destroying mainly the cancer cells while leaving the healthy cells alone.

Babu G. Ranganathan
B.A. Bible/Biology

richardspahn
richardspahn

In Texas where lakes commonly now warm to over 80 degrees in summer,  MRSA enters the lakes from runoff and thrives. In 2007 or 2008 a young boy died from MRSA. He was at a  summer camp on Lake LBJ, one lakes in the Highland Lakes chain, above Austin, Texas. The same summer a young man died of MRSA after Jet Skiing on the same Lake  or the lake below it, Lake Travis, Austin's main reservoir. I've moved from Lake Travis and don't see the weekly paper that reported the deaths, but as a scientist I'm sure the problem is still there, if not worse. There was only brief publicity at the time on what precautions to take.     

rohit57
rohit57

Isn't it also possible, even likely that some things will improve with global warming?  I am no friend of global warming, nor of global warming denial but making a one sided case is not objective.  For instance I have read that the southern part of England is now able to produce champagne which they were not able to produce before.  

From the Wikipedia:

"Traditionally seen as struggling with an unhelpfully cold climate, the English and Welsh wine industry has been helped by the warmer British summers over recent years and it is speculated that global warming may encourage major growth in the future"

I am a little suspicious of the logic, "We hate Republicans.  Republicans deny global warming.  Therefore global warming must be all bad."  Reality is  not quite so one sided.

WilliamTeach
WilliamTeach

So, since Bryan is so concerned about this, he will surely lobby for the Time Magazine offices to turn their AC up to 78, or even off, since AC is bad for "climate change", right?


Funny how the areas with the greatest biodiversity are where it is really warm.

MikeHugh-jass
MikeHugh-jass

@rohit57 What's bad about one step forward, two steps back?
The rate of change is the real monster.  Its' not only wildlife morbidity and mortality, but economies will have difficulties making major adjustments to agriculture and countless other aspects in response to our quickly changing planet.  Think of what is required to "simply" move wheat production 500 miles north.  That land up north just may be already in use.  Wipe it out to make room?  Import much more of your grain?  Grow a new type of grain that can take the new climate and adjust the diets of everyone and every industry?  How about orchards?  We cant just move the trees.  Only if we understand and accept the science will we be able to make efficient plans far enough in advance to diminish the negative aspects, while enjoying the positive ones.

Piacevole
Piacevole

@rohit57 Crops we grow are adapted to a certain, rather narrow weather behavior.

How much good will it do to have champagne if there's a severe reduction of everything else we eat?  It wouldn't take much of a change to make that happen.  A year of drought and a year of flooding do not "average out" to good conditions for crops.  They "average out" to disaster.

Also, the way we raise some livestock (like pigs dairy cows and chickens, for example) in close confinement is problematic, because they both have narrow temperature tolerance.  Not only do they not thrive and gain weight (or give milk or lay eggs) outside that band, they can die en masse, creating both an immediate and longer term problem.  Getting rid of tons of carcasses is no easy task, aside from the monetary loss: if they die from overheating, they cannot be used for food.

Most urban people have no idea just how sensitive their food change is to climate change. 


TroyOwen
TroyOwen

@rohit57 You are correct, like the Trees using water better in high CO2 climate. Time has that article as well.

The real "bad" stuff won't happen until about 3 deg.C hits, around 2070 or so.

Until then there will be SOME convenient things, especially in colder areas. 

This article is just a mild footnote.  

What is funny to me is those "Deniers" who read this, will blow it off, 10 years from now it will be seen, yet they did read this article and will just say "humbug" again!

Same with the Glaciers from 20 years ago, we were told then, many times, but even NOW some people say "Meh it happens ..." and justify it in their minds.