‘Dirty, deadly dozen’ pathogens expand, thanks to climate change

October 8th, 2008 - 4:34 pm ICT by IANS  

Washington, Oct 8 (IANS) Health experts from the Wildlife Conservation Society have released a report that lists 12 pathogens that could spread into new regions as a result of climate change, potentially impacting human and wildlife health and global economies. The best defence, according to the report’s authors, is a good offence in the form of wildlife monitoring to detect how these diseases are moving so 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 Steven E. Sanderson, president and CEO of the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS).

“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 “Deadly Dozen” list - including such diseases as avian influenza, ebola, cholera, and tuberculosis - is illustrative only of the broad range of infectious diseases that threaten humans and animals, according to a WCS release.

It builds upon the recommendations included in a recently published paper titled “Wildlife Health as an Indicator of Climate Change”, which appeared 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.

The report was released at the ongoing IUCN World Conservation Congress, in Barcelona, Spain.

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