Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:


Infectious diseases and climate change intersect with no simple answers

Study highlights challenges of predicting disease outcomes in a warming world

Climate change is already affecting the spread of infectious diseases--and human health and biodiversity worldwide--according to disease ecologists reporting research results in this week's issue of the journal Science.

Modeling disease outcomes from host and parasite responses to climate variables, they say, could help public health officials and environmental managers address the challenges posed by the changing landscape of infectious disease.

"Earth's changing climate and the global spread of infectious diseases are threatening human health, agriculture and wildlife," said Sam Scheiner, National Science Foundation (NSF) program director for the joint NSF-National Institutes of Health Ecology and Evolution of Infectious Diseases Program, which funded the research.

"Solving these problems requires a comprehensive approach that unites scientists from biology, the geosciences and the social sciences."

According to lead author Sonia Altizer of the University of Georgia, the issue of climate change and disease has provoked intense debate over the last decade, particularly in the case of diseases that affect humans.

In the Science paper, Altizer and her colleagues--Richard Ostfeld of the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies; Pieter Johnson of the University of Colorado; Susan Kutz of the University of Calgary and Canadian Cooperative Wildlife Health Centre; and Drew Harvell of Cornell University--laid out an agenda for future research and action.

"For a lot of human diseases, responses to climate change depend on the wealth of nations, healthcare infrastructure, and the ability to take mitigating measures," Altizer said.

"The climate signal, in many cases, is hard to tease apart from other factors like vector control, and vaccine and drug availability."

In diseases affecting wildlife and agricultural ecosystems, however, findings show that climate warming is already causing changes.

"In many cases, we're seeing an increase in disease and parasitism," Altizer said. "But the effect of climate change on these disease relationships depends on the physiology of the organisms and on the structure of natural communities."

At the organism level, climate change can alter the physiology of parasites. Some of the clearest examples are found in the Arctic, where temperatures are rising rapidly. Parasites are developing faster as a result. A lungworm that affects muskoxen, for instance, may be transmitted over a longer period each summer, making it a more serious problem for the populations it infects.

Climate change is also affecting entire plant and animal communities.

Community-level responses to rising temperatures are evident in tropical marine environments such as the coral reef ecosystems of the Caribbean. Warmer water temperatures have directly stressed corals and facilitated infections by pathogenic fungi and bacteria. When corals succumb, other species that depend on them are affected.

The potential consequences of these changes are serious. The combination of warmer temperatures and altered disease patterns is placing growing numbers of species at risk of extinction, the scientists say.

In human health, there is a direct risk from pathogens like dengue, malaria and cholera. All are linked to warmer temperatures.

Indirect risks also exist in threats to agricultural systems and game species that are crucial for subsistence and cultural activities.

The scientists recommend building on and expanding data on the physiological responses of hosts and parasites to temperature change. Those mechanisms may offer clues to how a system will respond to climate warming.

"We'd like to be able to predict, for example, that if the climate warms by a certain amount, then in a particular host-parasite system we might see an increase from one to two disease transmission cycles each year," Altizer said.

"But we'd also like to try to tie these predictions to actions that might be taken."

Some of those actions might involve more monitoring and surveillance, adjusting the timing of vector control measures and adopting new management measures.

These could include, for instance, closing coral reefs to human activity if a disease outbreak is predicted, or changing the planting strategy for crops to compensate for unusually high risks of certain diseases.

The researchers also point out that certain local human communities, such as those of indigenous peoples in the Arctic, could be disproportionately affected by climate-disease interactions.

Predicting where these local-scale effects might be most intense would allow societies to take measures to address issues such as health and food security.

"Involving local communities in disease surveillance," said Altizer, "could become essential."

Media Contacts
Cheryl Dybas, NSF (703) 292-7734
Beth Gavrilles, University of Georgia (706) 542-7247
Lori Quillen, Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies (845) 677-7600
Jim Scott, University of Colorado Boulder (303) 492-7531
John Carberry, Cornell University (607) 255-5353

The National Science Foundation (NSF) is an independent federal agency that supports fundamental research and education across all fields of science and engineering. In fiscal year (FY) 2012, its budget was $7.0 billion. NSF funds reach all 50 states through grants to nearly 2,000 colleges, universities and other institutions. Each year, NSF receives about 50,000 competitive requests for funding, and makes about 11,500 new funding awards. NSF also awards about $593 million in professional and service contracts yearly.

Cheryl Dybas | EurekAlert!
Further information:

More articles from Studies and Analyses:

nachricht Diagnoses: When Are Several Opinions Better Than One?
19.07.2016 | Max-Planck-Institut für Bildungsforschung

nachricht High in calories and low in nutrients when adolescents share pictures of food online
07.04.2016 | University of Gothenburg

All articles from Studies and Analyses >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: New 3-D wiring technique brings scalable quantum computers closer to reality

Researchers from the Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC) at the University of Waterloo led the development of a new extensible wiring technique capable of controlling superconducting quantum bits, representing a significant step towards to the realization of a scalable quantum computer.

"The quantum socket is a wiring method that uses three-dimensional wires based on spring-loaded pins to address individual qubits," said Jeremy Béjanin, a PhD...

Im Focus: Scientists develop a semiconductor nanocomposite material that moves in response to light

In a paper in Scientific Reports, a research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute describes a novel light-activated phenomenon that could become the basis for applications as diverse as microscopic robotic grippers and more efficient solar cells.

A research team at Worcester Polytechnic Institute (WPI) has developed a revolutionary, light-activated semiconductor nanocomposite material that can be used...

Im Focus: Diamonds aren't forever: Sandia, Harvard team create first quantum computer bridge

By forcefully embedding two silicon atoms in a diamond matrix, Sandia researchers have demonstrated for the first time on a single chip all the components needed to create a quantum bridge to link quantum computers together.

"People have already built small quantum computers," says Sandia researcher Ryan Camacho. "Maybe the first useful one won't be a single giant quantum computer...

Im Focus: New Products - Highlights of COMPAMED 2016

COMPAMED has become the leading international marketplace for suppliers of medical manufacturing. The trade fair, which takes place every November and is co-located to MEDICA in Dusseldorf, has been steadily growing over the past years and shows that medical technology remains a rapidly growing market.

In 2016, the joint pavilion by the IVAM Microtechnology Network, the Product Market “High-tech for Medical Devices”, will be located in Hall 8a again and will...

Im Focus: Ultra-thin ferroelectric material for next-generation electronics

'Ferroelectric' materials can switch between different states of electrical polarization in response to an external electric field. This flexibility means they show promise for many applications, for example in electronic devices and computer memory. Current ferroelectric materials are highly valued for their thermal and chemical stability and rapid electro-mechanical responses, but creating a material that is scalable down to the tiny sizes needed for technologies like silicon-based semiconductors (Si-based CMOS) has proven challenging.

Now, Hiroshi Funakubo and co-workers at the Tokyo Institute of Technology, in collaboration with researchers across Japan, have conducted experiments to...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>



Event News

#IC2S2: When Social Science meets Computer Science - GESIS will host the IC2S2 conference 2017

14.10.2016 | Event News

Agricultural Trade Developments and Potentials in Central Asia and the South Caucasus

14.10.2016 | Event News

World Health Summit – Day Three: A Call to Action

12.10.2016 | Event News

Latest News

Innovative technique for shaping light could solve bandwidth crunch

20.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

Finding the lightest superdeformed triaxial atomic nucleus

20.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

NASA's MAVEN mission observes ups and downs of water escape from Mars

20.10.2016 | Physics and Astronomy

More VideoLinks >>>