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USA TODAY

COVID-19 may be just the beginning of global pandemics – a future scenario in which climate change may also play a role.

“We have entered a pandemic era,” says a recent study in Cell magazine. Written by Dr. Anthony Fauci and medical historian Dr. David Morens, both of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the study paints a picture of a future in which pandemics are becoming more numerous.

“I don’t have a crystal ball, but what we’re seeing is a lot like accelerating pandemics,” Morens told BuzzFeed News. Reasons he cites include deforestation, urban crowds and wet game markets.

But the potential role of climate change is complex: we know the virus survives longer in low temperatures than in hot ones, so that could mean a warmer planet will slow the spread of the disease, said meteorologist Jeff Masters, who writes for Yale Climate Connections. On the other hand, he said, heat waves make people spend more time indoors in air-conditioned spaces, where the spread of the disease is increasing.

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“That’s how Florida had a hard time with COVID-19 this summer, despite the fact that some parts of Florida recorded their hottest recorded summer,” Masters told USA TODAY. “These complexities make it difficult to assess how climate change may affect COVID-19.”

Warming creates an “opportunity” for pathogens

Some scientists believe that warming will play a bigger role in future pandemics.

“We know that climate change is changing our attitudes toward other species on Earth, and this is important for our health and risk of infections,” said Dr. Aaron Bernstein, director of the T.HChan C-CHANGE program at Harvard University.

“As the planet heats up, large and small animals, on land and at sea, head to the poles to get out of the heat,” he said. “This means that the animals come into contact with other animals that they normally would not, and this allows pathogens to enter new hosts.”

In addition, Masters said that the most concerned diseases worldwide, exacerbated by climate change, are those spread by mosquitoes, as mosquitoes like it hot and wet – conditions that are becoming more common due to global warming. Malaria, zika, chikungunya, dengue fever and West Nile virus are expected to spread to areas where they are not currently endemic, he said. Tick-borne diseases, such as Lyme disease, will also spread.

Bernstein said climate change has already made conditions more conducive to the spread of some infectious diseases, including Lyme disease, waterborne diseases such as Vibrio parahaemolyticus (causing vomiting and diarrhea) and mosquito-borne diseases such as malaria and dengue fever.

“Future risks are not easy to predict, but climate change is hitting hard on several fronts that matter when and where pathogens appear, including temperature and precipitation patterns,” Bernstein said. “To help reduce the risk of infectious diseases, we must do everything we can to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and limit global warming to 1.5 degrees.”

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As for whether climate change could exacerbate future pandemics, Morens told the United States today that it is too early to draw definitive conclusions.

“We can imagine that if climate change leads to further deterioration and change in the environment (beyond what people are already doing), then we will probably see more of these diseases,” he said. “But it can be said in the same way that we will see less. These are big questions that we may not have good answers to for decades or even centuries to come.

“But in the end, for many reasons, it’s hard to imagine that climate change would be a good thing for human health,” Morens said.

Climate change is a “threat multiplier”

One expert said it almost certainly impacts pandemics such as COVID are exacerbated by climate change.

Meteorologist Michael Mann of Penn State University calls climate change a “threat multiplier,” meaning that it “exacerbates existing challenges and threats by increasing our vulnerability and reducing our adaptive capacity.”

He said he looked at the situation in Puerto Rico, for example, where many people had died of COVID-19 for the simple reason that they had not yet recovered their public health infrastructure from the devastating effects of Hurricane Maria 3 years ago.

“There is no doubt that the storm was more destructive than the unusually warm temperatures on the surface of the tropical ocean in the Atlantic Ocean, which provide more energy and moisture for the storm. This anomalous heat can only be explained by climate change caused by from man, “said Man.

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He said a case could be made of at least an indirect link between COVID-19 and climate change. Environmental degradation, including deforestation, destruction of rainforests and natural habitats, can displace exotic disease-carrying creatures in a way that favors increased human contact.

“These same activities – in particular deforestation – are also leading to increased carbon emissions, which are behind man-made climate change,” Mann said.

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