The "Deadly Dozen" Diseases Worsened by Climate Change (Part 3)

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  • Click here to read Part 1 of this story (overview).
  • Click here to read Part 2 of this story (avian flu, babesiosis, cholera).

The following list includes pathogens that may spread as a result of global warming and changes in precipitation levels, according to a new report from the Wildlife Conservation Society. Monitoring efforts for these diseases must be examined in tandem with meteorological data to uncover climate-related trends.


Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is caused by a bacterium and is transmitted to humans through tick bites. Tick distributions will shift as a result of climate change, bringing Lyme disease into new regions to infect more animals and people.

While the disease’s effects on wildlife have not been documented, human-induced changes in the environment and on different species’ population patterns (i.e., the white-tailed deer, which can carry infective ticks) greatly affect disease distribution. Monitoring of tick distributions will be necessary to assess the impacts of climate change on Lyme disease.

Intestinal and External Parasites

Parasites are widespread throughout terrestrial and aquatic environments. As temperatures and precipitation levels shift, parasites will increase in many areas, infecting a larger number of humans and animals.

Many species of parasites are zoonotic (spread between wildlife and humans). Baylisascaris procyonis, for example, is spread by the common raccoon and is deadly to many other wildlife species and humans. A close relative, Baylisascaris schroeder, causes death in its natural host, the critically endangered giant panda.

Monitoring of parasite species and loads in wildlife and livestock help us identify transmission of these infections between domestic and wild animals and humans.


The ebola hemorrhagic fever virus and its closely related cousin, the Marburg fever virus, easily kill humans, gorillas and chimpanzees—and there is currently no known cure. Scientists continue to work on finding the source of the disease and to develop vaccines for protection.

There is significant evidence that outbreaks of both diseases are related to unusual variations in rainfall/dry-season patterns. As climate change disrupts and exaggerates seasonal patterns, we may expect to see outbreaks of these deadly diseases occurring in new locations and with greater frequency.

The Wildlife Conservation Society’s work on ebola in Central Africa has been supported by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Tune in tomorrow to read Part 4 of this story.

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Photo by James Gathany

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