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Climate Change Leads to Rapid Emergence of Infectious Diseases

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Climate Change Leads to Rapid Emergence of Infectious Diseases

Climate change is creating conditions that are likely to increase the rate of infectious disease worldwide.

That’s the key findings of two new studies that show viruses such as Ebola, H1N1 and TB, as well as dengue and yellow fevers could spread further and become more frequent because of our changing climate.

Mosquito, a disease vector. Photo credit: Creative Commons: Enrique Dans 

In one recently published article, zoologists studied climate in two vastly different regions—the tropics and the Arctic—to gain an understanding of how climate change may affect the spread of disease.

In both regions the scientists found that by altering and moving habitat zones of disease-carrying animals, climate change could be making outbreaks of diseases more frequent.

Previously, scientists believed that parasites could not quickly jump from one host to another because of the way parasites and hosts co-evolve. This would, in effect, make new disease more rare as parasites would first have to evolve a genetic mutation in order to move to another species.

However, the new analysis argues that these evolutionary jumps can come quicker then anticipated.

“Even though a parasite might have a very specialized relationship with one particular host in one particular place, there are other hosts that may be as susceptible,”said Daniel Brooks, professor at University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Newer hosts are more susceptible to infections because they haven’t developed resistances to them, making the hosts more likely to get sicker.

The researchers predict that as humans move deeper in wildlife areas they are more likely to interact with animals affected by new more virulent strains of pathogens. This would increase the rate of human epidemics and could be spread even further through global air travel.

Sometimes the new diseases will come to us more directly.

In another new study, a team of researchers from the U.K. and Germany found that rising temperatures in Europe could bring traditionally tropical diseases such as dengue and yellow fevers to Europe.

The researchers predicted 2.4 billion people could be exposed to the Asian tiger mosquito by the middle of the century, as they emigrate from Africa to Europe’s new warmer climate.

The mosquito can transmit pathogens that spread diseases including dengue fever, chikungunya infection, yellow fever and encephalitis.

The research suggests the chances of the Asian tiger mosquito, hitting the UK and France are higher than previously thought.

Eastern Brazil, the eastern U.S., Western and Central Europe and Eastern China are also likely to provide increasingly suitable habitats for the mosquito between the period 2045 and 2054.

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A plume of smoke from wildfires burning in the Angeles National Forest is seen from downtown Los Angeles on Aug. 29, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Kevork Djansezian / Getty Images

California is bracing for rare January wildfires this week amid damaging Santa Ana winds coupled with unusually hot and dry winter weather.

High winds, gusting up to 80- to 90 miles per hour in some parts of the state, are expected to last through Wednesday evening. Nearly the entire state has been in a drought for months, according to the U.S. Drought Monitor, which, alongside summerlike temperatures, has left vegetation dry and flammable.

Utilities Southern California Edison and PG&E, which serves the central and northern portions of the state, warned it may preemptively shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers to reduce the risk of electrical fires sparked by trees and branches falling on live power lines. The rare January fire conditions come on the heels of the worst wildfire season ever recorded in California, as climate change exacerbates the factors causing fires to be more frequent and severe.

California is also experiencing the most severe surge of COVID-19 cases since the beginning of the pandemic, with hospitals and ICUs over capacity and a stay-at-home order in place. Wildfire smoke can increase the risk of adverse health effects due to COVID, and evacuations forcing people to crowd into shelters could further spread the virus.

As reported by AccuWeather:

In the atmosphere, air flows from high to low pressure. The setup into Wednesday is like having two giant atmospheric fans working as a team with one pulling and the other pushing the air in the same direction.
Normally, mountains to the north and east of Los Angeles would protect the downtown which sits in a basin. However, with the assistance of the offshore storm, there will be areas of gusty winds even in the L.A. Basin. The winds may get strong enough in parts of the basin to break tree limbs and lead to sporadic power outages and sparks that could ignite fires.
"Typically, Santa Ana winds stay out of downtown Los Angeles and the L.A. Basin, but this time, conditions may set up just right to bring 30- to 40-mph wind gusts even in those typically calm condition areas," said AccuWeather Senior Meteorologist Mike Doll.

For a deeper dive:

AP, LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Washington Post, Weather Channel, AccuWeather, New York Times, Slideshow: New York Times; Climate Signals Background: Wildfires, 2020 Western wildfire season

For more climate change and clean energy news, you can follow Climate Nexus on Twitter and Facebook, sign up for daily Hot News, and visit their news site, Nexus Media News.

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