Protecting the US From Invasion of Infectious Diseases

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SEATTLE — A study by the University of Liverpool’s Institute of Infection and Global Health revealed the inevitable invasion of infectious diseases in Europe due to climate change. Climate change will threaten human health as it will alter infectious disease spatial distributions, interrupt annual and seasonal cycles or change disease incidence and severity, according to the study.

Researchers focused on the pathogens that most greatly affect human and domestic animal health by analyzing the sensitivity of 100 human and 100 domestic animal pathogens present in Europe to 190 climate drivers. They then classified the climate drivers as either primary or secondary.

More than 63 percent of the pathogens had positive median scores, meaning that they had a sensitivity to at least one of the climate drivers, and many exhibited sensitivities to multiple climate drivers. The study also found that zoonotic pathogens demonstrated a greater sensitivity to climate than non-zoonotic pathogens. Zoonotic pathogens are those that animals transmit to humans and include well-known diseases like HIV and Ebola.

Twenty-five of the infectious diseases observed in this study also are included in the Global Burden of Diseases, Injuries, and Risk Factors Study that includes the most comprehensive, recent estimates of human disease burden. Their inclusion on the list reveals that climate change will impact and spread some of the highest impact human infections.

Although the results of the study are daunting, the study itself is a step in the right direction for minimizing the damage of the spreading infectious diseases. Researchers have previously expressed a need for a system for environmental and epidemiological data, which this study provides.

While the Institute focused on the spread of infectious diseases to Europe, its results also have serious implications for health security in the United States. Climate change is global and will result in more infectious diseases reaching the United States too.

In order to protect the United States, it is important to proactively fight infectious diseases, especially in developing countries, before they even have the opportunity to reach the United States. For example, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Anthony Faruci blamed the poor healthcare infrastructure in West Africa for the magnitude of the Ebola outbreak. He claims that with improved health infrastructure, West Africa could have identified, isolated and contact-traced Ebola and prevented the massive outbreak.

Faruci also pointed out that the Ebola outbreak was not an isolated incident; invasion of infectious diseases always has and will be a threat to global health that require attention and resources. Another more recent example is the spread of the Zika virus, which made it all the way to the United States. In order to prevent a rapid and deadly invasion of infectious diseases due to climate change, the government must make the necessary investments now in healthcare infrastructure and research and develop both at home and abroad.

Lauren Mcbride
Photo: Flickr

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Lauren McBride

Lauren lives in Milwaukee, WI. Her academic interests include public policy, corporate strategy and financial economics. Lauren is a huge Green Bay Packers fan.

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