FunNature & AnimalCould climate change trigger the next pandemic?

Could climate change trigger the next pandemic?

What will be the next global health crisis? A team of researchers from Georgetown University (USA) claims that rising temperatures are forcing animals to move to more populated areas of the world, increasing the risk of a viral jump to humans.

“The COVID-19 pandemic and the earlier spread of SARS, Ebola and Zika show how a virus that jumps from animals to humans can have massive effects,” said Sam Scheiner , program director at the National Science Foundation. from USA

geographic relocation

In their study, the scientists made the first comprehensive assessment of how climate change will restructure the global virome of mammals. The work focuses on geographic range changes: the journeys species will take as they follow their habitats into new areas. Once these mammals are first found, the study projects they will share thousands of viruses. Something that would act as a “springboard” between viruses such as Ebola or coronaviruses, making them more difficult to track and with a greater risk of jumping to human beings.

“The closest analogy is actually the risks that we see in the wildlife trade, ” says Colin Carlson, a research assistant professor in the Center for Global Health Sciences and Security at Georgetown University Medical Center and a co-author. from work. “We worry about markets because putting sick animals together in unnatural combinations creates opportunities for this gradual process of emergence, like how SARS jumped from bats to civets, and then from civets to people. But markets already they are not special; in a changing climate, that kind of process will be the reality in nature almost everywhere .”

Climate change

It is a worrying situation. As Earth’s climate continues to warm, researchers predict that wild animals will be forced to relocate their habitat, which, with the study’s conclusions in hand, could lead to the next pandemic . According to experts, it is more than possible that efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions will not prevent these events from taking place.

In particular, the researchers warn about the effects that rising temperatures will have on bats. Their ability to fly will allow them to travel long distances and share most viruses. Thus, these animals play a crucial role in the spread of new viruses, with the greatest consequences projected in Southeast Asia, a critical area for bat diversity.

“At every step,” Carlson said, ” our simulations have taken us by surprise. We’ve spent years double-checking those results, with different data and different assumptions, but the models always lead us to these conclusions. It’s really an amazing example of how well that we can actually predict the future if we try.

“It is not clear exactly how these new viruses could affect the species involved, but it is likely that many of them translate into new risks for conservation and fuel the appearance of new outbreaks in humans”, concludes the expert.

Taken together, the study suggests that climate change will become the biggest risk factor for disease outbreaks, surpassing higher-profile issues such as deforestation, the wildlife trade and industrial agriculture.

“This research shows how animal movements and interactions due to warmer weather could increase the number of viruses that jump between species ,” says Scheiner.

Referencia: Carlson, C.J., Albery, G.F., Merow, C. et al. Climate change increases cross-species viral transmission risk. Nature (2022).


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