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2022-08-11| R&D

Extreme Climate Change Is Aggravating Infectious Diseases!

by GeneOnline
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Severe infectious diseases have been spreading worldwide frequently in the last decade. Global climate change has been known to contribute to the increased threat of infectious diseases to humans by altering the transmission routes of pathogens, but this hypothesis has remained elusive to quantify.

A recent research paper published on August 8 in Nature Climate Change by a team of researchers from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa pointed out that with global warming and the accumulation of greenhouse gas emissions, up to 58% of human infectious diseases have been at some point aggravated by climatic hazards, and that the most fundamental way of mitigation is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Related Article: WHO Sounds Monkeypox Alarm as Cases Continue Rising Worldwide

Modeling Response to Various Climate Hazards and Disease Scenarios

In order to understand the systematic effects of different types of climate hazards on various infectious diseases, the research team gathered nearly 2,000 corresponding documents through a literature review of 10 types of climate hazards (e.g., warming, droughts, heat waves, floods, etc.). As for infectious disease scenarios, they used the Global Infectious Disease and Epidemiology Network (GIDEON) and the database of infectious diseases of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to list a total of 375 diseases with clear climate-related causes, including dengue fever and malaria.

Literature search strategy: The team carried out three complementary literature searches about case examples of diseases affected by climatic hazards. (Source: Nature Climate Change)
Viral and Bacterial Infectious Diseases Aggravated by Extreme Climate

According to the analysis, up to 218 out of 375 diseases (58%) were found to be aggravated by specific climate change conditions. The most common climate change events include warming, extreme precipitation, floods, and droughts, and among all affected pathogens, 76 were infectious diseases of viral origin (adenovirus, COVID-19, avian influenza virus, etc.), 69 were infectious diseases of bacterial origin (leprosy, Q fever, Vibrio vulnificus), followed by animal-borne pathogens, fungal infections, and other categories.

Specifically, the reasons for the aggravation of infectious diseases due to climate change are related to three factors: 1) the warming climate is conducive to the growth of pathogenic bacteria, which accelerates their life cycle 2) the incubation period of pathogens is shortened, increasing their exposure time to the host 3) climate suitability for reproduction and virulence of pathogens are increased (for instance, warming has positive effects on mosquito population development, survival, biting rates and viral replication, increasing the transmission efficiency of West Nile virus).

The pathways in which climatic hazards, via specific transmission types, result in the aggravation of specific pathogenic diseases (Source: Nature Climate Change)

This retrospective study quantified the association between climate change and the occurrence of infectious diseases and confirmed that many human infectious diseases are not independent events. Whether it is HIV, influenza virus, or dengue fever, the researchers have found more than 1,000 unique pathways of climate hazards that aggravate the transmission of pathogens. The paper serves not only as a reminder that adapting to diseases associated with extreme climates will become more arduous in the future but also that the fundamental solution is to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to avoid favorable conditions for the growth and transmission of pathogens.

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