Climate Change May Be Causing Epidemics

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Scientists are struggling to find ways to fight climate change without creating new problems in the process

Climate change may be making infectious diseases stronger and increasing the likelihood that they will balloon into an epidemic, according to a new study. The researchers who conducted the study said climate change not only impacts our planet’s weather but can also expose humans, animals and crops to diseases they haven’t been exposed to previously.

How climate change affects diseases

Ana Verayo of China Topix reports that researchers say as the climate changes, it may enable infectious diseases to be able to infect new hosts more quickly than usual. New hosts are especially vulnerable to infections because they haven’t built up resistance to the disease, and because they have no resistance, the disease becomes chronic very quickly.

Daniel Brooks of the University of Nebraska said the result could be more outbreaks of diseases that will pressure. And if that happens, the world’s health systems will likely come under increased pressure.

 How climate change affects diseases

Brooks and zoologist Eric Hoberg, his co-author on the study, examined how climate change affects various ecosystems in ways that could result in increasing epidemics. Of big concern is what researchers call the “parasite paradox.”

The paradox deals with the speed at which pathogens transfer between species. Researchers have believed for quite some time that the inter-species transfer happens slowly because parasites need each other in order to evolve. The concern is that new diseases could be caused by parasites that are able to evolve so that they can survive in a new type of host much earlier than they can now.

There is already evidence of this type of evolution occurring in diseases. According to Brooks, parasites in spider monkeys transferred quickly to howler monkeys. Researchers have also discovered that lungworms can transfer from caribou to musk oxen.

Can we fix climate change?

Another study on climate change also offers some ideas for how humans can deal with the issue. Some nations are already putting initiatives in place to battle climate change, but it’s beginning to look like we won’t be able to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions enough to make a difference.

The Washington Post reports on research from the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences. The report states that scientists have devised a couple of backup options, but according to The Post, those options are “very unattractive.”

One is to reduce how much carbon dioxide is in the Earth’s atmosphere, and the other is known as geoengineering and involves reflecting more sunlight away from the Earth and back into space. Of course removing carbon dioxide from the air presents its own set of problems. It’s not only a slow process, but the excess gas would have to be stored.

Scientists could also add iron to the oceans, which would result in greater growth of phytoplankton, which could consume carbon dioxide, but that could have potentially devastating effects. Another possibility is to spray sulfur dioxide into the air, which would reflect sunlight but also thin out the ozone layer in the process and potentially cause other climate change problems.

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