Global warming could impact future spread of monkeypox virus
Global warming may be a contributing factor in the spread of diseases such as monkeypox to non-endemic areas.
Monkeypox has been designated a global health emergency by the World Health Organization July 23.
While monkeypox virus is endemic, or commonly found, in some West African countries, the first cases reported in 2022 were no travel link established to endemic areas, according to the WHO. The first human monkeypox case of 2022 was reported on May 17 in Portugal.
Increased disease occurs when there is overcrowding or more people move into an area, exposing them to new diseases, said Heidi Brown, an associate professor at the University of Arizona, but there are also changing disease patterns that can be attributed to climate change.
Brown studies vector-borne and zoonotic diseases, space epidemiology and climate change.
Warming has the effect of accelerating virus replication, increasing the likelihood of humans coming into contact with disease or disease vectors, she said.
In her own words, Brown answers questions about the spread of infectious diseases and how science deals with epidemics.
Will climate change cause more viruses like monkeypox to spread?
The available evidence suggests quite strongly that we will start to see changes in the distribution of the diseases we see. The idea of humans encroaching on animal habitat, if you think specifically about zoonosis, yes, we expect to see more of those interactions.
We also see human disease simply because of overcrowding. when you have climate refugees who have no place to go, we will start to see some of these changes in disease patterns.
The evidence weighs quite heavily that we will see more infectious and different diseases in different places. But then each disease has its own cycle of transmission, its own mode of transmission, so we’ll see, I think, the variability of different diseases, in what kinds of diseases we might expect to see versus diseases that might not change because of climate change.
We will start to see some pretty big changes in infectious disease incidents and the number of cases, and especially where they are happening.
Is current science equipped to manage changes in infectious diseases?
I don’t do vaccine development, but I think what we saw with COVID was phenomenal. I don’t think most of us appreciate how phenomenal it was to go from “What the hell is that?” to a vaccine that is so effective, so quick and so safe.
Possibly pre-COVID if [I had been] asked that question, I’d say “I don’t know, it takes a long time to develop vaccines and make sure they’re safe” and I’d have those caveats. But I’m inspired by those groups, those teams that came together and figured out how to make a vaccine safely so that they could do it.
I also don’t think we should minimize the other components that will be important for disease control, so hand washing and care and thinking about surfaces and communities embracing the ability to recognize social distancing.
As terrible and depressing as COVID has been, I also think that there are also elements that inspire us or should inspire us. As we look to the future, it will be difficult because diseases change and if we don’t fully embrace them, then we create loopholes that the virus, the pathogen, whatever that organism will pass through.