How climate change plays a key role in the frequency of virus infections

The current pandemic has claimed thousands of lives over the past six months and left many more with long-term injuries. However, the coronavirus is not unique, since the start of the 21st century there have been many other outbreaks of infectious diseases, such as Ebola, SARS, swine flu and zika – although none have managed to spread quite like the coronavirus. The catalyst for such diseases can be explained by using China as an example, as their population nears 1.5 billion and the conditions of wet markets in their countries are a perfect place for diseases to spread. This is due to the poor conditions the animals are kept in, making it easy for diseases to spread from one another, as humans consume these animals it is more likely that these diseases will spread from animal to human. However, it is not only such conditions which increase the likelihood of infectious diseases but also climate change, more specifically global warming.

https://www.ncdc.noaa.gov/cag/global/time-series/globe/land_ocean/ytd/12/1880-2019

As the above graph demonstrates, global temperatures continue to increase due to the high amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, among other reasons, which creates an catalyst for infectious diseases. Higher temperatures have been associated with increased rates of spreading disease through carriers such as insects. Insects which carry diseases, one example being mosquitos which spread malaria and zika, have longer breeding seasons and life cycles due to the higher temperatures which we are experiencing globally (Lynch et al. 2010). As temperatures continue to increase each year, the rate of infectious diseases will continue to increase due to these prolonged life cycles. This helps understand the correlation between global warming and the rate of diseases we have seen since the start of the 21st century.

Although this may seem alarming, scientists are hard at work in creating solutions to such problems. One such solution is the engineering of genetically modified male mosquitos which when breeding with females do not carry over diseases, therefore prohibiting the amount of infectious diseases which can be spread to humans.

The spread of infectious diseases due to climate change has also been found in other ways, such as the melting of permafrost. Permafrost is frozen land found in the Northern hemisphere typically trapping gases such as methane underneath it. As global temperatures continue to rise, scientists have discovered that these frozen landscapes are beginning to melt, thus releasing a lot of harmful gases as well as lethal diseases back into the environment. In 2016, scientists discovered that a young boy had died of anthrax which had been sourced from dead reindeers which had been frozen for more than 70 years, however due to the melting of permafrost this exposed land released this disease back into the environment.

Credit: Ben Curtis/AP – Source: https://www.theguardian.com/world/gallery/2020/jan/24/billions-of-locusts-swarm-through-kenya-in-pictures

Additionally, climate change and its association with unpredictable weather patterns can create other problems involving insects and population imbalance. Since 2019, many parts of Asia, Africa and the Middle East have been experiencing large quantities of locust which are surpassing into the billions and devouring the crops the people there rely on. This demonstrates the unpredictable consequences of climate change and the lack of preparation governments and nations have in terms of dealing with these problems.

As infections diseases, population outbursts and many other problems continue to surface due to the radical change in the planet’s climate, solutions and international cooperation to these problems continue to appear somewhat vacant. Spreading awareness of these issues are most important in helping to bring attention to these catastrophes which are without solutions. As time is somewhat running out in terms of irreversible damage, this seems to truly be a situation where everyone is responsible but also a time where everyone needs to get involved to help combat these destructive issues.

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