Scientists warn that climate change could lead to the next major epidemic

As the global climate continues to warm, scientists predict that wildlife will have to relocate their habitats – most likely to areas with large human populations. This will greatly increase the risk of a viral jump in humans that could lead to the next major pandemic.

Researchers predict that as global warming continues, wildlife will be forced to migrate their habitats – most likely to areas with human settlements – dramatically increasing the risk of a viral jump in humans, potentially leading to the next pandemic.

This link between climate change and virus transmission was described by an international research team led by scientists from Georgetown University in a paper titled “Climate Change Increases Risks of Virus Transmission of Various Kinds,” published April 28, 2022 in the journal. nature of mood

In their study, the researchers conducted the first comprehensive assessment of how climate change is restructuring the global mammalian virome. The work focuses on geographic shifts – the journeys that species will take as they trace their habitats to new areas. Since they meet other mammals for the first time, the study predicts they will share thousands of viruses.

By 2070, population centers in tropical Africa, southern China, India, and Southeast Asia will overlap with projected hotspots of virus transmission between species in the wild. Credit: Colin Carlson/Georgetown University

They argue that these shifts present a greater chance for viruses like Ebola or coronaviruses to emerge in new places, making them more difficult to track, and in new animal species, making it easier for viruses to “transfer” into species. To jump. † People.

“The biggest similarity is actually the risks we see in the wildlife trade,” said lead author Colin Carlson, PhD, assistant professor in the Center for Global Health and Security Sciences at Georgetown University Medical Center. “We are concerned about markets because bringing unhealthy animals together in unnatural groups creates opportunities for this multi-layered emergence process – like how SARS jumped from bats to civets and then from civets to humans. But markets are no longer distinct. In a changing climate, this species will be of the process. It is a fact in nature almost everywhere.”

Alarmingly, animal habitats will move disproportionately to the same places as human settlements, creating new hotspots for dispersal hazards. Much of this process may be underway in today’s 1.2 degree warmer world, and efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions cannot prevent these events from occurring.

Another important finding is the effect of high temperatures on bats, which are responsible for most of the entry of the new virus. Their ability to fly would allow them to travel long distances and share most viruses. Due to its central role in virus formation, the largest impacts are expected in Southeast Asia, a global hotspot for bat diversity.

“Our simulations surprised us every step of the way,” Carlson says. We have spent years revalidating these results, with different data and different assumptions, but models always lead us to these conclusions. It really is a great example of how much we can predict the future if we try.”

With viruses beginning to jump between host species at unprecedented rates, the authors say the effects on conservation and human health could be startling.

“This mechanism adds a new layer to how climate change threatens human and animal health,” said study co-author Gregory Albury, PhD, and a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biology in the Georgetown University School of Arts and Sciences.

“It is unclear exactly how these new viruses might affect the species in question, but it is likely that many of them will translate into new protection risks and fuel the emergence of new outbreaks in humans.”

Overall, the study suggests that climate change will become the biggest risk factor for disease outbreaks – surpassing prominent issues such as deforestation, wildlife trade and industrial agriculture. The authors say the solution lies in combining disease monitoring in the wild with real-time studies of environmental change.

“When a Brazilian free-tailed bat reaches the Appalachian region, we need to invest in knowing which viruses are tagging,” Carlson says. “Trying to detect these host jumps in real time is the only way to prevent this process from causing more spillovers and more epidemics.”

“We are closer than ever to predicting and preventing the next pandemic,” Carlson said. “This is a huge step towards forecasting – now we need to start working on the hardest half of the problem.”

“The[{” attribute=””>COVID-19 pandemic, and the previous spread of SARS, Ebola, and Zika, show how a virus jumping from animals to humans can have massive effects. To predict their jump to humans, we need to know about their spread among other animals,” said Sam Scheiner, a program director with the U.S. National Science Foundation (NSF), which funded the research. “This research shows how animal movements and interactions due to a warming climate might increase the number of viruses jumping between species.”

Reference: “Climate change increases cross-species viral transmission risk” by Colin J. Carlson, Gregory F. Albery, Cory Merow, Christopher H. Trisos, Casey M. Zipfel, Evan A. Eskew, Kevin J. Olival, Noam Ross and Shweta Bansal, 28 April 2022, Nature.
DOI: 10.1038/s41586-022-04788-w

Additional study authors also included collaborators from the University of Connecticut (Cory Merow), Pacific Lutheran University (Evan Eskew), the University of Cape Town (Christopher Trisos), and the EcoHealth Alliance (Noam Ross, Kevin Olival).

The research described is supported in part by a National Science Foundation (NSF) Biology Integration Institutes (BII) grant (BII 2021909), to the Viral Emergence Research Initiative (Verena). Verena, co-founded by Carlson and Albery, curates the largest ecosystem of open data in viral ecology, and builds tools to help predict which viruses could infect humans, which animals host them, and where they could someday emerge. NSF BII grants support diverse and collaborative teams of researchers investigating questions that span multiple disciplines within and beyond biology.

Addition funding was provided by the NSF grant DBI-1639145, the USAID Emerging Pandemic Threats PREDICT program, the Institut de Valorisation des Données, the National Socio-environmental Synthesis Center, and the Georgetown Environment Initiative.

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