A link between climate change and the spreading of infectious diseases

Recent research has shown that the spreading of the Zika virus in Europe, which is considered by many experts as probably likely to occur by next summer, might not be provoked by the Aedes aegypti, the mosquito responsible for the spreading of the virus through Latin America. Instead, according to experts, any outbreak is likely to be caused by the Aedes albopictus mosquito, which is not unknown in the continent (unlike the Aedes aegypti) and has the potential for carrying and transmitting the Zika virus.

A correlation between the spreading of infectious, in particular mosquito-borne, diseases and climate change is not unheard of in scientific literature, but, for Zika in particular, experts claim that there is a clear link between global warming and the spreading of the virus. In fact, high temperatures are thought to be the main responsible not only for the expansion of the range of mosquitoes, but also for their accelerated reproduction, which contributes to an increase in the diffusion of the virus.

It should be noted, however, that global warming and, more generally, climate change, is not, as it is often thought, the only driving factor for the spreading of infectious, in particular mosquito-borne, diseases. Instead, it has often been found that there are other factors which take a major role in the process: these can be either part of the local environment (such as, for example, the quality of public health services, the use of pesticides and insecticides, living conditions and population density) or they can be processes happening on an international level (such as the increase, in the last decades, in international travel and trade). The fundamental impact of local agents, aside from the influence of climate, is often the main reason why outbreaks occur more often and are more damaging in developing countries.

Despite the clear link between changes in climate and changes in patterns through which diseases spread, predictions about the future impact of climate change on disease spreading remain difficult to make.

 

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Further information at:

http://www.who.int/globalchange/environment/en/chapter6.pdf

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