Global Warming Could Bring a Surge in 12 Deadly Diseases

By Eliza Strickland | October 8, 2008 3:12 pm

bird flu rangersA warmer world will also be a sicklier place for both animals and humans, according to a new report from the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS). Dubbed the “deadly dozen,” sicknesses such as Lyme disease, yellow fever, plague, and avian influenza, or bird flu, may skyrocket as global shifts in temperature and precipitation transform ecosystems. Babesia, cholera, Ebola, intestinal and external parasites, red tides, Rift Valley fever, sleeping sickness and tuberculosis round out the list [National Geographic News].

The report spells out how global warming is changing the ranges and habitats of animals that carry these infectious diseases, bringing the ticks that transmit Lyme disease and the mosquitoes that carry yellow fever and Rift Valley fever into contact with new human populations. “We’ve seen Lyme disease work its way up from the US into Canada, and West Nile fever as well,” said William Karesh, director of WCS’s global health programmes. “Basically what you have now are fewer frozen nights in this region, and that allows the ticks and mosquitoes that carry these diseases to survive further north” [BBC News].

The predicted surge in infections wouldn’t be entirely driven by rising temperatures, according to the report. Global warming is also expected to cause an increase in severe weather events, like harsh winter storms or prolonged droughts, which could disrupt normal animal behaviors and spread disease: For example, a drought could bring wild birds carrying avian flu to the water sources provided for farmed poultry. And while the animal host of the dangerous disease Ebola is not clear, outbreaks in central Africa are thought to be correlated to unusual variations in rainfall patterns.

To counteract these health threats, WCS suggests an international monitoring program to determine how global warming is affecting the animals that carry these diseases. The Global Avian Influenza Network for Surveillance (GAINS)—an international effort to monitor bird flu in wild and domestic birds—has helped map how the disease spreads, and helped prevent a major outbreak in humans. Karesh and his colleagues argue that this bird flu network should be transformed into a broader effort that surveys all wildlife diseases. “The GAINS mapping and database systems can be easily adapted to any disease in any species,” Karesh says [Scientific American].

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  • http://hotmail Jude

    It’s undoubtedly the results of our misleading of the World. One day, a great friend of mine said, Actions have consequences, and that’s the kind of reality we’re facing nowadays. No one really seems to worry about global warming effects on humans. In fact there’re many, more than what some scientists are telling us.
    What we’ve heard is the head of the Iceberg, So let’s be realistic, many diseases will come again as daily friends. We just have to be humans so solve these problems, ready to join our knowledge together to put an end to this situation.

    If we don’t do something right now, we may not be able to do so in the future.

  • Josh

    What a scary headline, sure to elicit fear, as intended. I might be fearful too if I believed anthropogenic global warming (AGW) existed. I don’t believe it. Climate alarmists assure us that the debate on AGW is over, and that the world’s scientists have reached a concensus. They perpetually claim that we’re all going to suffer horribly unless we repent and stop sinning by burning evil fossil fuels. Anybody that questions the “science” of AGW, still just a theory, is ridiculed, discredited and accused of being bought by oil companies. That is anti-science. When anyone claims the science is settled, that is the time to ask questions. When scientific debate and alternative views are stifled in the scientific community, when grants are only given to “scientists” that support AGW theory and grants denied to skeptics, it is time to ask questions. When a conclusion is reached on climate based on only one variable (CO2) and observations over a period of three decades while ignoring dozens of other variables and the entire climate history of the planet, it is time to ask questions. Here is the logic of AGW theory: average global temperatures increased (about 0.6 ºC) in three decades, and atmospheric CO2 increased in that time, therefore CO2 must be the cause of the warming. It’s terrible logic. For one, that 0.6 ºC increase was erased in 2007 when the planet suddenly cooled – 30 years of warming erased in one year. The cooling coincides with a less active sun and a cooling pacific ocean (Pacific Decadal Oscillation switching to its cool phase) but alarmists conveniently ignore that. AGW theory is riddled with errors, inaccuracies, falsifications and the science behind it is perverted. AGW theory ignores the scientific method completely. It ignores anything or anybody that contradicts its conclusions. It’s more religion than science. AGW alarmists do not consider climate history. They only use 30 years of data and computer models to support their claims, and the data fed into their computers conveniently supports their claims. Anything that happened before the 1970s was natural, but anything that happened after was caused by humans. I am a former believer of AGW theory, but when I started researching on my own I found exactly the opposite of what the alarmists claim: the science is not settled and there is not a concensus. Alarmists wail everytime someone questions AGW theory. True scientists welcome criticism and questions in their pursuit of truth. Many great scientific discoveries were made by disproving previously held beliefs. Einstein disproved some of his own theories; he made conclusions then tested them and tested them and tested them. Why has the scientific method been trashed in the case of AGW theory? Nobody ever has the right to say the science is settled. Not even Einstein did that. If any of the great scientists of the past could see the state of science today they’d be utterly disgusted. Now is the time to ask questions and not accept the conclusions of AGW theory – especially considering the Draconian measures that some wish to take to “fix” global warming.

  • Gregor

    Very few scientists now dispute that humans are contributing significantly to global warming — but that’s not important in this particular context. What is important is that the planet is in fact warming, and current evidence places that beyond dispute. Better monitoring of the spread of diseases both animal and human is just one of the steps we need to take in order to adjust.

  • Jennifer

    As for this article…sometimes being an alarmist is the only way to get people to wake up and see the signs. We can not ignore the facts that diseases are migrating to areas not before exposed. While I believe in the global climate change I do not believe that this is the leading factor in the spread of disease. I think we have to look a little closer at ourselves. What I mean by that is that as humans we are causing our own demise in two ways:

    1. Destruction of the environment…plants, animals, the water, the air and even the dirt. The facts do stand on their own that when we deforest an area diseases can pop up more easily…that when we kill off one species in an area it has a ripple effect because that species kept something else in check which could lead to the downfall of that ecosystem…ecosystems are very delicate and the more we destroy the less of a buffer we have for ourselves. The Earth is just a huge ecosystem which means everything has a part to play in its health, including us. This is a simplified view but none the less accurate.
    2. Overpopulation…the Earth can not sustain us at the rate we are growing…nature will make a correction and disease is one way… We are even loosing medicine as the answer in many cases. Our over use of antibiotics to simply not washing our hands regularly is now compounded by our numbers and proximity to each other. Not to mention our simple case of a ‘superiority complex’…we aren’t the only ones on the planet and I would venture to say that living in harmony with nature might show more intelligence…if surviving is the point.

    Now I am not saying all hope is lost…on the contrary I believe we, as humans because of our superiority complex, have the ability to change things. The future has not yet happened, so it is up for grabs…so to speak. If we start paying attention to the signs it could be a road map to a bright future or…not.

    As for Josh…I also love that Einstein questioned everything including himself and if science was ‘settled’ then it wouldn’t be science…truly it is and always should be the desire to discover. With that said climate change or not diseases are spreading rapidly and this needs our attention.

  • Chris

    The ecosystems and earth change over time. We are now a force in that change. We need to come to grips with that fact. Our environment and economy would be nicer, if we were more efficient in all things we do.

    I think the idea of being overly concerned about issues an individual can do little to nothing about is absurd. At any moment a meteorite could wipe out civilization.

    I would also like to inform you that the sun is fusing hydrogen at an obscene rate and will certainly burn itself out. I suggest we find alternate fuel sources for the sun.

  • Gregor

    When I go to my doctor, I’m not asking him to solve all of the world’s problems; I’m asking him to help me with my problem. If my doctor is accustomed to dealing with disease specific to the local ecosystem, and if a shift in climate is changing the rules by introducing new pathogens or vectors or whatever, then helping me with my problem may involve someone else helping him. Better surveillance is part of that, as is education; particularly education of health care providers.

    When you first comes to really grasp the magnitude of the threat, it may be tempting to throw your hands up and retreat to philosophical musings about asteroid strikes and whatnot. This is a normal part of what risk communicators call “adjustment reaction”. An alternative is to try to find something you CAN do, and do that. That’s what these scientists (individuals, to a man) are doing.

    The individual can do more than you realize. The problem is created as a collective result of small actions by huge numbers of people, and the solutions will have to come about the same way. Drive less. Recycle more. Shop locally. We can afford to have a few people who either do not believe that their actions have a significant impact or do not care. We just can’t afford to have six an a half billion of them.

  • Stanley Leard

    Really a Good Website. The content is Awsome.I am currently working on some project based on environment and I really like some of theresources that are helpful directly or indirectly. Our selfishness has lead to so many problems and we have to sort it out. Anyways Thanks!!


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