11 June 2010

Climate spreading disease already

Rising global temperatures might already be helping infectious diseases to creep north, according to a report by European scientists.


Rising global temperatures might already be helping infectious diseases to creep north, according to a report by European scientists.

The report links warmer temperatures to the spread of dengue fever, yellow fever, malaria and even human plague in Europe.

"Fundamental influences of climate change on infectious disease can already be discerned and it is likely that new vectors and pathogens will emerge and become established in Europe within the next few years", says the report by the European Academies Science Advisory Council (EASAC).

The independent group is formed of 26 national science academies from across the European Union.

United Nations climate experts recommend cutting carbon emissions to prevent the rise of global temperatures beyond 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.

But the prospects of success look poor, with international climate negotiations making slow progress.

When temperatures rise, the insects that spread disease mature faster and produce more offspring, the report says.

Undeniable risk

Though the report is cautious about making a causal link between global warming and the spread of disease, EASAC's chairman said the risk was undeniable and called for more research.

"To me, it doesn't make a difference how we call it, but that we have had a higher temperature over the last 20, 30 years, which is documented," said Dr Volker ter Meulen, EASAC chairman.

"These higher temperatures provide for the vectors and the viruses to grow faster and produce more," he added, "and this will cause more disease."

For example, rising temperatures in Europe would provide new habitats for a mosquito that transmits yellow fever, West Nile virus, dengue fever and encephalitis, ter Meulen said.

The same mosquito has been linked to over 200 European cases of chikungunya, a virus that causes fever and destruction of the joints.

The European Commission supports additional research, said Peteris Zilgalvis, head of the Commission's research unit on infectious diseases.

"Impact is inevitable," he said. "Concerted action is needed at the EU and the national levels, because infectious diseases do not stop at borders." - (Andrea Swalec/Reuters Health, June 2010)


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