Deadly Dozen Could Sweep the Globe If Climate Change Proceeds Unchecked, Warn Experts

by Gopalan on Oct 7 2008 7:41 PM

Deadly dozen diseases could sweep the globe if climate change proceeds unchecked, warn experts. It could have serious impact on health and economy.

Wildlife Conservation Society has released a report that lists 12 pathogens that could spread into new regions. The list includes such diseases as avian influenza, Ebola, cholera, tuberculosis, plague. sleeping sickness, Lyme and yellow fever.

Called The Deadly Dozen: Wildlife Diseases in the Age of Climate Change, the new report released at the IUCN World Conservation Congress, held in Barcelona, Spain, suggests wildlife monitoring to detect how these diseases are moving so that health professionals can learn and prepare to mitigate their impact.

"The term 'climate change' conjures images of melting ice caps and rising sea levels that threaten coastal cities and nations, but just as important is how increasing temperatures and fluctuating precipitation levels will change the distribution of dangerous pathogens," said Dr. Steven E. Sanderson, President and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society.

"The health of wild animals is tightly linked to the ecosystems in which they live and influenced by the environment surrounding them, and even minor disturbances can have far reaching consequences on what diseases they might encounter and transmit as climate changes. Monitoring wildlife health will help us predict where those trouble spots will occur and plan how to prepare."

The report builds upon the recommendations included in a recently published paper titled "Wildlife Health as an Indicator of Climate Change," which appears in a newly released book, Global Climate Change and Extreme Weather Events: Understanding the Contributions to Infectious Disease Emergence, published by the National Academy of Sciences/Institute of Medicine. The study examines the nuts and bolts of deleterious impacts of climate change on the health of wild animals and the cascading effects on human populations.

In addition to the health threats that diseases pose to human and wildlife populations, the pathogens that originate from or move through wildlife populations have already destabilized trade to a large extent and caused significant economic damage. For instance, several livestock diseases that have reemerged since the mid-1990s (including avian influenza) have caused an estimated $100 billion in losses to the global economy.

WCS's Global Health Programs currently leads an international consortium that helps to monitor the movements of avian influenza through wild bird populations around the world. The GAINS program (Global Avian Influenza Network for Surveillance) was created in 2006 with support from the United States Agency for International

Development (USAID) and now involves dozens of private and public partners that monitor wild bird populations for avian influenza around the world.

Many wildlife pathogens have been the focus of monitoring efforts, but few data exist on how diseases will spread in response to climate change. The following list includes those pathogens that may spread as a result of changing temperatures and precipitation levels.

Monitoring efforts for these diseases need to be examined in tandem with meteorological data to uncover climate-related trends. The list is not a comprehensive one, and subsequent studies may eliminate pathogens from the list of those enabled by climatic factors.

Besiosis, a tick-borne diseases that affect domestic animals and wildlife, now an emerging disease in humans, intestinal and external parasites, "Red tides, " the algal toxins that cause mass fish kills, marine mammal strandings, penguin and seabird mortality and Rift Valley fever virus, an emerging zoonotic disease of significant public health and food security, particularly in Africa and the Middle East are the other pathogens listed.