Friday, October 28, 2011

Pestilence, pandemics, and climate change

The Conversation (Australia): Recent outbreaks of deadly bat-borne diseases could be a sign of things to come as rising heat and changing rains help the spread of infectious disease in Australia. Such is the warning that Professor Tony McMichael of the Australian National University’s National Centre for Epidemiology and Population Health will deliver in a public lecture next week.

In his advance notes for the talk, Professor McMichael writes that “recent outbreaks of bat-borne viral diseases in horses and humans in Australia are a pointer to likely future risks to human health – as climate change causes the displacement of species such as bats from their natural habitat (and, perhaps, into the urban and suburban environments).” Professor McMichael will also talk about the growing chance that mosquitoes carrying dengue fever will make their way to Australia, given their expanding territorial reach in countries including Japan and the Philippines.

In notes for the lecture, Professor McMichael mentions that climate change partly triggered the 14th Century Black Death that killed up to half of the population of many European cities. He also writes that the last decade’s leap in the reach of the dengue mosquito (Aedes albopictus) into Manila jumped the most when the greatest year-on-year warming occurred (2005-2006). In Japan the dengue mosquito has “extended its zone northwards by 500 kilometres over the past half century in association with warming”....

A sign in Singleton, New South Wales, shot by Peter Firminger, Wikimedia Commons, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

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