A new study published this week details how climate change will affect the spread of dangerous viruses and diseases, specifically the Ebola virus.
Published in Nature Communications, the study warns that outbreaks of deadly viruses could increase and move to portions of the world that haven’t experienced them yet.
“Recent outbreaks of animal-borne emerging infectious diseases have likely been precipitated by a complex interplay of changing ecological, epidemiological and socio-economic factors,” states the study.
Even more frightening is that the world isn’t even currently equipped to handle animal-borne infectious diseases adequately. “Many zoonotic diseases are poorly understood, and global health responses to them are chronically underfunded9. Our knowledge gaps and the need for improved forecasting of zoonotic disease risk were starkly illustrated by the 2013–2016 Ebola outbreak, which was unprecedented in terms of size, financial cost, and geographical location,” say authors of the study. Climate change is only going to make things worse.
As the planet warms, more environments become more suitable for vectors such as mosquitos and wet, hot environments are where pathogens like cholera and Lyme disease thrive.
Ebola, which originates from wildlife hosts, is a virus that prefers warm and wet conditions. Authors of the study assessed several possible climate change scenarios, In every one the incidence of Ebola increased.
“Climate change is happening, and we need to know how it will impact disease-carrying species,” David Redding, study author and researcher at the University College London, told Earther. “This knowledge will help us predict the future burden of disease and better plan for it. But climate change is happening in tandem with many other processes such as land-use and human development, so we need to consider these all together and capture how they interact with one another to alter disease risk to human health in the future.”
Yet when scientists studied scenarios in which emissions are reduced and global socioeconomic factors were improved, the total area where epidemics could occur decreased by nearly 50 percent.
The model researchers used to test many patterns, including present-day scenarios, was able to mimic actual outbreaks the world has already seen, making it likely that future predictions are pretty spot on. But authors admit that some factors, such as bush-meat bunting which has played a role in previous outbreaks, were not taken into account.
Ebola is an extremely deadly virus, responsible for the deaths of more than 11,000 people in West Africa a few years ago and more than 2,000 people in the Democratic Republic of Congo just this year.