This colorized electron microscope image made available by the U.S. National Institutes of Health shows a human T cell, indicated in blue, under attack by HIV, in yellow, the virus that causes AIDS. (Seth Pincus, Elizabeth Fischer, Austin Athman/NIH via AP)
A new study predicts that climate change will cause thousands of new viruses to spread among many kinds of animals by 2070. The researchers say such spread will likely increase the risk of new diseases that pass from animals to humans.
The research covered about 3,000 kinds of mammals, animals including cats, bats, whales, and humans, to name a few. The scientists created a model to see how these species might migrate and share viruses in the next 50 years if the world warms by 2 degrees Celsius. Recent research has suggested that such a temperature rise is possible.
The team said the model predicted that cross-species virus spread will happen more than 4,000 times among mammals.
The researchers said not all viruses will spread to humans or lead to widespread pandemics like COVID-19. However, the study suggests that the high number of cross-species viruses will increase the risk of spread to humans.
The findings recently appeared in the publication Nature.
The study points to two major worldwide crises that could cause diseases to be passed from animals to humans – climate change and infectious disease spread.
Past research has looked at how deforestation, the disappearance of species and the wildlife trade can lead to animal-human disease spread. But there has been less research on how climate change could influence this kind of disease spread, the researchers said.
“We don't talk about climate a lot in the context of zoonoses," said study co-writer Colin Carlson, a professor of biology at Georgetown University in Washington D.C. Zoonoses is a term for diseases that can spread from animals to people. “Our study ... brings together the two most pressing global crises we have," Carlson added.
Many experts on climate change and infectious disease agree that a warming planet will likely lead to increased risk that new viruses will be created.
Daniel R. Brooks is a biologist at the University of Nebraska State Museum and co-author of the book The Stockholm Paradigm: Climate Change and Emerging Disease. He told The Associated Press that the latest study supports the idea that new disease threats can be linked to climate change.
“This particular contribution is an extremely conservative estimate” for possible new infectious disease spread caused by climate change, Brooks said.
Aaron Bernstein is a medical doctor and current director of the Center for Climate, Health, and the Global Environment at Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health. He said the study confirms long-held suspicions about the effects planet warming can have on the creation of new infectious diseases.
He noted that the study suggests such cases “may already be happening with greater frequency and in places near where many people live,” Bernstein said.
Study co-writer Gregory Albery is a disease expert at Georgetown University. He told the AP that because climate-driven infectious diseases are likely already being created, the world should be doing more to learn about and prepare for it.
“It's not preventable, even in the best case climate change scenarios,” Albery said.
Words in This Story
context – n. all the facts, opinions, situations, etc. relating to a particular thing or event
global – adj. worldwide
contribute – v. to give something in order to provide or achieve something together with other people
conservative – adj. a guess about a number that is likely lower than the true number or amount
frequency – n. the number of times something happens in a particular period
scenario – n. a description of what could possibly happen