Europe To Experience Vast & Rapid “Invasion” By Infectious Diseases As Climate Warming Continues

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A vast and rapid “invasion” of Europe will be taking place over the coming decades as the continued warming of the climate allows a large number of infectious diseases to expand into new territory, according to a new study from the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Infection and Global Health.

The study reports, though, that this rapid spread of infectious diseases will be fairly unpredictable, owing to the number of “drivers” behind the spread of some of them.

So, what sorts of diseases are we talking about here? Those spread by disease vectors that will be greatly expanding their range (ticks, mosquitoes, etc.) make up a fair portion of them, but those spread by food and water contamination and spread through soil will as well.

So, this includes diseases such as Lyme disease, malaria, sleeping sickness, etc., on the one hand, and diseases such as cholera, liver fluke infection, and anthrax on the other.

“Although there is a well-established link between climate change and infectious disease, we did not previously understand how big the effects will be and which diseases will be most affected,” commented Marie McIntyre, who led the project at the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Infection and Global Health.

“Climate sensitivity of pathogens is a key indicator that diseases might respond to climate change, so assessing which pathogens are most climate-sensitive, and their characteristics, is vital information if we are to prepare for the future.”

The IB Times provides more: “The large-scale review has mapped how 100 human infectious diseases are likely to spread or change their range due to climate change in Europe. Nearly two-thirds of the pathogens studied were sensitive to climate. The authors also studied 100 animal infectious diseases and found that a similar proportion were likely to be altered by climate change. Zoonotic diseases — those that jump from animals to humans, such as SARS, HIV, and Ebola — were more sensitive to change than those that infect either only humans or only animals.

“… Some pathogens had many climate ‘drivers’, so that their response to a changing climate would be particularly large or unpredictable. The diseases with the most drivers were cholera, liver fluke, anthrax and Lyme disease.

“Currently, most models examining climate effects only consider a single or at most two climate drivers, so our results suggest that this should change if we really want to understand future impacts of climate change on health,” McIntyre concluded.

As most reading this will guess, the warming experienced over the last few decades has already seemingly had a hand in the spread of diseases beyond their historic ranges — the recent spread of the livestock diseases bluetongue and Schmallenberg disease in Europe, for instance. Or the spread of Zika in South America.

The new research is detailed in a paper published in the journal Scientific Reports.

Before ending this article, I want to make an important point here. Most people in the western world are prone to shrugging off the implications of contracting dangerous diseases nowadays, mostly because of the assumption that effective treatments will always be available. The truth, though, is that effective treatments won’t always be available. There are completely drug-resistant strains of many very dangerous diseases circulating in the wild (so to speak).

This situation is only going to get worse and worse as the century progresses, especially as regional warfare and social breakdown become more and more common (along with mass migration). It should be noted here that war zones and failed states are ideal conditions for the rapid spread of drug and antibiotic resistance amongst pathogens and diseases vectors.

The situations in Syria and Libya serve as good examples — antibiotic resistance amongst dangerous pathogens has surged very rapidly in those regions in recent years as a result of the implications of the conflicts there.

Something else to note: completely drug-resistant strains of some common STDs are now circulating widely as well. Some STDs that we think of nowadays as being relatively harmless can be quite debilitating, and even deadly, when treatment isn’t available.

Some of you are probably thinking that there are still treatment options available even when dealing with pathogens that possess resistance to regular treatment options, which is true to a degree … but there’s a vast difference between the relatively harmless drugs that are mostly in use nowadays and systemic antibiotics based around mercury or arsenic compounds. There are good reasons that modern antibiotics were embraced so enthusiastically, after all.

Image by Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

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James Ayre

James Ayre's background is predominantly in geopolitics and history, but he has an obsessive interest in pretty much everything. After an early life spent in the Imperial Free City of Dortmund, James followed the river Ruhr to Cofbuokheim, where he attended the University of Astnide. And where he also briefly considered entering the coal mining business. He currently writes for a living, on a broad variety of subjects, ranging from science, to politics, to military history, to renewable energy.

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