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Current Events: New Study Finds Climate Change Could Spark the Next Pandemic



As the Earth’s temperature continues to increase, researchers are predicting that wild animals will eventually be forced to relocate their habitats to densely populated areas, likely to regions such as equatorial Africa, south China, India, and southeast Asia. This will in turn increase the risk of a viral jump to humans that “could lead to the next pandemic”.

Recently, an international research team led by scientists at Georgetown University conducted the very first comprehensive study as to how climate change will reconstruct the "global mammalian virome".

  • The work conducted within this study largely focused on “geographic range shifts”, or the journeys that species will go on while following their habitats into new areas.

  • As these species encounter new mammals for the first time, it is projected that thousands of viruses will be shared.

  • These geographic range shifts will not only bring greater opportunities for viruses, such as Ebola or coronaviruses, to appear in new areas, it will also make it a lot easier for these viruses to jump across a "stepping stone species" into human beings.

There is one factor however that is currently of major concern: as animal habitats move disproportionately into the same areas where humans are settled, new hotspots of "spillover risk" will be created.

  • The unfortunate news is, much of this process may already be happening.

  • Because we are already living in a 1.2 degrees warmer world than pre-industrial times, efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions may not be able to stop these inevitable events from unfolding.

As this new study’s co-lead author, Gregory Albery, PhD, a postdoctoral fellow in the Department of Biology in the Georgetown College puts it, “It’s unclear exactly how these new viruses might affect the species involved, but it’s likely that many of them will translate to new conservation risks and fuel the emergence of novel outbreaks in humans”.



Citations

1) “New Study Finds Climate Change Could Spark the Next Pandemic” Georgetown University Medical Center. https://gumc.georgetown.edu/news-release/new-study-finds-climate-change-could-spark-the-next-pandemic/

2) “Climate change increases cross-species viral transmission risk” Nature. https://www.nature.com/articles/s41586-022-04788-w

3) “Climate change could spark the next pandemic, new study finds” ScienceDaily. https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2022/04/220428085820.htm

4) “The virome in mammalian physiology and disease” National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3977141/

5) “Cross-species transfer of viruses: implications for the use of viral vectors in biomedical research, gene therapy and as live-virus vaccines” National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7166875/

6) “Ranking the risk of animal-to-human spillover for newly discovered viruses” PNAS. https://www.pnas.org/doi/10.1073/pnas.2002324118

7) “Global Temperatures Already 1.2 degrees Celsius Above Pre-Industrial Levels” Bloomberg. https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2020-12-02/global-temperatures-already-1-2-c-above-pre-industrial-levels#xj4y7vzkg

8) “Greg Albery - Disease Ecologist” GregAlbery.me. https://www.gregalbery.me

9) “A disease ecology and network epidemiology research lab” Bansal Lab. http://bansallab.com


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