Climate Change Worsens "Deadly Dozen" Diseases (Part 1)

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Health experts from the Bronx, NY-based Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) yesterday released a report listing 12 pathogens that could spread into new regions because of climate change, with potential impacts to human and wildlife health, as well as global economies.


The Deadly Dozen: Wildlife Diseases in the Age of Climate Change provides examples of diseases that could spread as a result of changes in temperatures and precipitation levels. The best defense, according to the report’s authors, is a good offense: wildlife monitoring to detect how these diseases are moving so health professionals can learn and prepare to mitigate their impact.

“The term ‘climate change’ conjures images of melting ice caps and rising sea levels that threaten coastal cities and nations, but just as important is how increasing temperatures and fluctuating precipitation levels will change the distribution of dangerous pathogens,” says WCS President and CEO Steven E. Sanderson, PhD. “The health of wild animals is tightly linked to the ecosystems in which they live and influenced by the environment surrounding them, and even minor disturbances can have far-reaching consequences on what diseases they might encounter and transmit as climate changes. Monitoring wildlife health will help us predict where those trouble spots will occur and plan how to prepare.”

The Deadly Dozen list—including diseases like avian influenza, Ebola, cholera and tuberculosis—is illustrative only of the broad range of infectious diseases that threaten humans and animals. It builds upon the recommendations included in a recently published paper, “Wildlife Health as an Indicator of Climate Change,” which appears in a newly released book, Global Climate Change and Extreme Weather Events: Understanding the Contributions to Infectious Disease Emergence, published by the National Academy of Sciences/Institute of Medicine. The study examines the nuts and bolts of deleterious impacts of climate change on the health of wild animals and the cascading effects on human populations.

In addition to health threats, the pathogens have already destabilized trade, to a large extent, and caused significant economic damage. For instance, several livestock diseases that have reemerged since the mid-1990s (including avian influenza) have caused an estimated $100 billion in losses to the global economy.

WCS’ Global Health Programs currently lead an international consortium that helps monitor the movements of avian influenza through wild bird populations around the world. The GAINS program (Global Avian Influenza Network for Surveillance) was created in 2006, with support from the United States Agency for International Development. and now involves dozens of private and public partners that monitor wild bird populations for avian influenza around the world.

“Emerging infectious diseases are a major threat to the health and economic stability of the world,” says Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-CT). “What we've learned from WCS and the GAINS Program is that monitoring wildlife populations for potential health threats is essential in our preparedness and prevention strategy, and expanding monitoring beyond bird flu to other deadly diseases must be our immediate next step.”

“The monitoring of wildlife health provides us with a sensitive and quantitative means of detecting changes in the environment,” adds Dr. William Karesh, a veterinarian who serves as vice president and director of WCS’ Global Health Programs. “Wildlife health monitoring provides a new lens to see what is changing around us and will help governments, agencies and communities detect and mitigate threats before they become disasters.”

Tune in tomorrow for Part 2 of this story.

Editor’s Note: publishes environmental news so organic consumers have access to the latest information on climate change and other threats. You can view similar posts by visiting the Environment Section of our blog.

Photo by Dennis DeMello (© Wildlife Conservation Society)

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