“Potentially devastating”: the climate crisis could fuel future pandemics

T.here will be at least 15,000 cases of the virus jumping between species over the next 50 years, with the climate crisis helping to fuel a “potentially devastating” spread of disease that will endanger animals and people and risk further pandemics, the researchers warned. .

As the planet warms, many animal species will be forced to move to new areas to find suitable conditions. They will carry their parasites and pathogens with them, spreading them among species that have never interacted before. This will increase the risk of what is called “zoonotic reflux,” in which viruses transfer from animals to people, potentially triggering another pandemic of the extent of Covid-19.

“As the world changes, so will the face of disease,” said Gregory Albery, a disease ecology expert at Georgetown University and co-author of the paper, published in Nature. “This work provides more incontrovertible evidence that the next few decades will not only be warmer, but sicker as well.

“We have demonstrated a new and potentially devastating mechanism for the emergence of diseases that could threaten animal health in the future and will likely have ramifications for us as well.”

Albery said climate change is “shaking ecosystems to the core” and causing interactions between species that are likely already spreading viruses. She said that even drastic action to address global warming now will not be enough to stop the risk of spillover events.

“It is happening, it is not preventable even in the best case scenarios of climate change and we must put in place measures to build health infrastructure to protect animal and human populations,” he said.

The research paper states that at least 10,000 types of viruses capable of infecting humans are circulating “silently” in wild animal populations. Until relatively recently, such cross-infections were unusual, but as more habitat was destroyed for agriculture and urban sprawl, more people came into contact with infected animals.

Climate change is exacerbating this problem by helping to circulate diseases between species that previously did not meet. The study predicts the geographic displacement of 3,139 mammal species due to climate change and land use until 2070 and found that even with a relatively low level of global warming there will be at least 15,000 inter-species transmission events. several of one or more viruses during this time.

Bats will account for the majority of the spread of this disease due to their ability to travel great distances. An infected bat in Wuhan China is a suspected cause of the onset of the Covid pandemic, and previous research has estimated that there are around 3,200 strains of the coronavirus already moving among bat populations.

The risk of climate-related diseases is not future, new research warns. “Surprisingly, we find that this ecological transition may already be underway and keeping warming below 2 ° C within a century will not reduce future viral sharing,” the paper says.

Much of the disease risk is bound to focus on high-altitude areas in Africa and Asia, although the lack of monitoring will make it difficult to monitor the progress of some viruses. “There is this monumental and mostly unnoticed change happening within ecosystems,” said Colin Carlson, another co-author of the research.

“We are not keeping an eye on them and this makes the risk of a pandemic a problem for everyone. Climate change is creating countless hot spots for zoonotic risk right in our backyard. We have to build health systems ready for this ”.

Experts not involved in the research said the study highlighted the urgent need to improve processes to prevent future pandemics, as well as phase out the use of fossil fuels that are causing the climate crisis.

“The findings underscore that we must, absolutely must, prevent the spillover of pathogens,” said Aaron Bernstein, acting director of the Center for Climate, Health and Global Environment at Harvard University.

“Vaccines, drugs and tests are essential but without major investments in primary pandemic prevention, namely habitat conservation, strict regulation of the wildlife trade and improvement of livestock biosecurity, for example, we will find ourselves in a world where only the rich are able to survive more likely outbreaks of infectious diseases ”.

Peter Daszak, president of EcoHealth Alliance, a nonprofit pandemic prevention organization, said that while human interference in landscapes has long been considered a disease risk, the new research represents a “critical step forward” in understanding how climate change will fuel the spread of viruses.

“What’s even more troubling is that we may already be in this process, something I didn’t expect and a real public health wake-up call,” he said. “Indeed, when you think about the likely impacts of climate change, if pandemic diseases are one of them, we are talking about trillions of dollars of potential impact.

“This hidden cost of climate change is finally illuminated and the vision this document shows us is a very bad future for wildlife and people.”

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