Climate Change: Breeding Ground of Disease

Climate change has the potential to create an unprecedented refugee crisis by making areas of the world uninhabitable. Obviously, but is still should be mentioned, climate change affects the entire world. Whether it is extreme drought in Somalia, heatwaves in the Persian Gulf, hurricanes in Puerto Rico, or extreme snowfall across the East coast of the U.S., climate change is capable of uprooting where people may live, and in some cases has the potential to change where people are capable of living. As people relocate, they not only bring their belongings with them, but also any diseases they may be caring. Exposing a geographical area of people to a disease that they are not familiar with could be extremely dangerous. In some cases, exposure to a “new” disease may cause extreme discomfort, but in other cases may be fatal.

The most rapid spreading disease in the world is dengue fever. Dengue fever is often referred to as a “traveler’s disease” because many people contract it while visiting places with a tropical climate. Symptoms of the fever include fever, headache vomiting, skin rash, and muscle and joint pain. The skin rash, and muscle and joint pains often cause contortions, which earned the disease the nickname “break bone” fever. Usually the fever last up to a week, but has been fatal in come cases. Dengue fever is contracted by being bitten by mosquitos that carry the disease. Moreover, a mosquito can carry the disease by sucking the blood a previously infected person. With this mind, dengue fever is prevalent in Puerto Rico, which, due to Hurricane Maria, may have up to 3.4 million displaced persons. Regardless, if those persons were to seek refuge in the U.S. or anywhere else, some people will most likely carry dengue fever with them. It is important to note, it is not simply dengue fever that benefits from climate change, but all diseases that thrive in warmer temperatures. For example, diseases like malaria, “black fever,” and rat lungworm, and Lyme disease can survive in more areas as global temperature increases. Moreover, these diseases have the potential to infect more people because the carries are surviving for longer periods. Insect and parasites like mosquitos and ticks thrive in warmer temperatures, so as temperature increase they are able to survive for longer seasons and infect larger geographical areas.

Moreover, the issue of disease spreading due to climate change is heightened due to diseases hidden in ice. These diseases can come from a number of different time frames from as recent as 75 years ago to as ancient as 30 thousand years ago. The most dangerous diseases that are returning because of the melting ice caps are anthrax and zombie diseases. These diseases were once locked under something known as permafrost, which is ice that has not melted in at least two years. However, since the rate at which the ice caps are melting is faster than the rate at which they freeze, these diseases are released into the world when the older layers are re-exposed.

Anthrax is a very dangerous pathogen that derives from livestock and has not had a serious outbreak since 1941. However, when that last outbreak occurred, thousands of reindeer were infected with a specific strain of anthrax. When the reindeer died, the indigenous people buried them deep below the ice and worry of an anthrax outbreak was no longer needed. What the indigenous people did not know was that the bacteria was not destroyed and was preserved by the layer of ice that formed over the carcasses. Last year, the ice over those reindeer melted because of a heatwave over the summer, and the bacteria was able to transfer to the soil, the water, and other animals. Ultimately, this led to an anthrax breakout in Siberia. Anthrax cannot be cured with man-made medicines, so if an outbreak were to occur globally, scientists would need to find a natural solution similar to penicillin. This may also cause people to leave Siberia and if they come from the region where the anthrax is reemerging, they could potentially spread the virus to other regions.

The following is a video that further discusses climate change is helping disease spread:

The other diseases released are actually more dangerous than anthrax. Zombie diseases are diseases from thousands of years ago that we have yet to experience. These viruses are more durable and are much larger than the viruses around today. Currently, the permafrost with the human viruses is still buried beneath many layers, but scientists are extracting amoeba viruses from nearby layers and industrialists will soon mine below these layers for mineral and petroleum deposits that sit beneath many layers of permafrost. One disease in particular that biologists predict is within these layers is smallpox. Humanity has believed smallpox has already been eradicated, but it is highly possible that it is one of the many diseases lurking beneath the surface. As the permafrost continues to melt and expose older viruses and bacteria to us, we will need to adapt to these prehistoric diseases and the effects they will have on local agriculture and livestock.

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