Climate Change Could Cause the Next Pandemic
A new study from researchers at Georgetown University has found that as animals relocate their habitats to adapt to climate change, they’ll likely head to areas with heavy human populations, “dramatically increasing” the risk of viral transmission with humans.
The study focused on the geographic shifts species will take on their journeys to more habitable environments due to climate change, finding that as mammals encounter other mammals for the first time, they’ll likely share thousands of viruses.
The team says the shifts will create more opportunities for viruses to grow and spread to new areas, making them harder to discover and track.
A major concern is that animal habitats will disproportionately move to the same places that humans live, creating new hotspots for spillover risk.
One important finding is the impact rising temperatures will have on bats, which account for the majority of novel viral sharing, according to the researchers.
Bats’ ability to fly allows them to travel long distances, sharing the most viruses and potentially having huge impacts in areas in southeast Asia.
Why it matters:
The researchers say the findings suggest that “climate change will become the biggest upstream risk factor for disease emergence – exceeding higher-profile issues like deforestation, wildlife trade, and industrial agriculture.”
They say the solution is to pair wildlife disease surveillance with studies examining real-time environmental change.