Climate Change Greatly Increases The Risk That Ebola Will Spread

Photo: CNN

According to a study published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, the climate crisis will bring a 1.75 to 3.2-fold increase by 2070 in the rate at which the deadly Ebola virus spreads from animals to humans and the risk that it would spread to the U.S. also increases.  According to CNN, the authors concluded that the risk increases for more devastating outbreaks in areas of Africa that haven’t seen them previously under all of the climate warming scenarios the researchers examined — higher temperatures and slower social and economic development lead to greater risk.

Why This Matters:  The estimates of global deaths that will be attributable to climate change just keep going up. Scientists now predict higher temperatures will bring more cases of malaria, diarrhea, heat stress, heart defects, malnutrition, and antibiotic-resistant diseases.  The climate crisis could, in fact, “halt and reverse” all the progress made in human health over the past century. 

Ebola Will Spread Farther and More Frequently

In west and central Africa, where the disease has so far remained localized, Ebola outbreaks would happen more frequently and spread farther, via airlines, to previously unaffected areas, the researchers believe.

  • The researchers looked at current airline flights in their model and determined that there is a high risk of Ebola spreading to China, Russia, India, Europe, and the United States.
Climate change can impact animals that carry the disease like fruit bats and impact the way humans interact with them.
  • For example, in rainy years — something predicted with warming temperatures — there will be more fruit for the bats to eata and then they will reproduce more and also come into contact with more animals, which further increases the likelihood that humans will come into contact with them.
  • In dry years, which are also possible with warming temperatures, farmers that can’t grow enough to feed their families might have to venture farther into the forest for food, increasing the chances they will come into contact with the forest animals such as bats.

Experts Worry

According to Ron Klain, the Ebola Czar under President Barack Obama, “This latest study confirms what we have long known:  that climate change is a dangerous threat multiplier for the spread of infectious disease, both by forcing humans and animals with diseases into closer quarters as habitats shrink, and by spreading the reach of disease-bearing insects to new regions.  It is yet another reminder that no location or circumstance insulates you from the effects of climate change;  all of us are at risk.”

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