While the effects of climate change are being discussed and analyzed, and steps are being attempted to halt the changes, there is one area that the changing climate is causing issues that is being overlooked- the spread of infectious diseases. These changes are not as visual and immediately noticeable as changing weather patterns or rising seas, but they have the potential to be just as devastating.
The first large scale assessment of the impact of climate change on infection control was recently published in Scientific Reports. This study focused on how bacteria, viruses, and other pathogens that cause disease were affected, and responded to, changing climate patterns. This consisted of one hundred human pathogens and one hundred domestic animal pathogens.
The study results found that almost two-thirds of the pathogens included in the survey had a sensitivity to climate changes, and that two-thirds of that group were affected by more than one climate variable. The diseases with the most climate based variables were Cholera, Liver Fluke, Anthrax, and Lyme Disease.
It also found that vector borne diseases spread by insects and ticks were the most climate sensitive, with diseases spread in food and water also highly driven by climate. Pathogens that were transmitted from animals to humans were some of the most climate sensitive, compared to those that only affected animals or humans but couldn’t be transmitted between them. These animal to human transmission pathogens, known as zoonotic, make up about seventy five percent of emerging diseases.
Climate changes will cause these issues with infectious diseases because diseases that were prevented from entering new areas due to incompatible climate will now be able to thrive in new areas, and the populations there will not be prepared to handle these new diseases. We’re seeing this now with Lyme Disease- as areas experience warmer weather patterns ticks are able to move into new areas and thrive, spreading Lyme Disease in areas that have never had to worry about it before.
The researchers also point out that other aspects of changing climates, such as changes to travel patterns and trade routes, and changing ecosystems will also alter how these pathogens move and spread.