Monday, July 21, 2014

Animal disease spread spells bad news for human health

Annie Hauser at Sea otters off of Alaska's Aleutian Islands might be the latest victims of climate change's effect on the spread of disease.  In the past 10 years, the population has plummeted 70 percent — thanks to phocine distemper virus, a disease once never found in the North Pacific, Christopher Solomon recently wrote for Scientific American.

Researchers believe the Arctic's melting polar icebox is to blame for this virus's travel. "Their theory is that it has made its way through the fabled Northwest passage via a seal or its feces and met animals on the other side due to the dramatic level of sea ice reduction," Solomon explained to NPR.

 Musk oxen are another dramatic example of an animal dying thanks to the changing climate, in this case because of a fatal lung disease that was once unable to survive in the frigid Arctic temperatures, a team of international researchers wrote in a Science special issue on climate change last year.

The spread of disease among animals poses a huge threat to human health. As Solomon explained to NPR: "Since 1940, 60 percent of the new infectious diseases we've discovered in humans have come from animals. We've knocked down the borders between the natural world and the man-made world. Or, in these cases, the borders are simply melting away … As one parasitologist Michael Grigg at the National Institutes of Health told me, he said, 'if the animals get sick, we can get sick.'"

The warming globe's impact on vector-borne diseases has recently been acutely felt in the United States. In Florida, the first locally acquired case of the deadly, mosquito-borne chikungunya virus appeared last week. Rates of all vector-borne diseases, such as the most common, Lyme disease, have been increasing in recent years with experts fingering climate change as the culprit...

A sea otter in Morro Bay, shot by Mike Baird, Wikimedia Commons via Flickr, under the Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license

No comments: