The Startling Reason Dr. Fauci Fears a Future "Acceleration of Pandemics"
We may need to get used to global outbreaks unless we get climate change under control.
As if the current global pandemic wasn't enough for us to worry about, there is growing concern that this might only be the beginning of what Anthony Fauci, MD, is calling a "pandemic era." Yes, dealing with deadly outbreaks like COVID-19 might be something we have to grow accustomed to in the near future. This ominous forecast comes from a paper that Fauci and another medical expert published in the scientific journal Cell, with the scientists attributing their grim outlook on pandemics to one factor in particular: Climate change.
In their report, Fauci and medical historian David Morens, MD, both of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, note that COVID-19 "is but the latest example of an unexpected, novel, and devastating pandemic disease. One can conclude from this recent experience that we have entered a pandemic era."
As for what's behind this surge of pandemics, Fauci and Morens say: "Land-management practices have been associated with re-emergences of Eastern equine encephalitis; deforestation with emergences of Zika and Hendra viruses; road-building and environmental degradation with the spread of Bolivian hemorrhagic fever and HIV (infections spread by truckers and truck stop prostitution); and poverty, crowding, and poor sanitation with re-emergences of many diseases such as tuberculosis and cholera."
In an interview with BuzzFeed News, Morens said, "I don't have a crystal ball, but what we are seeing looks very much like an acceleration of pandemics." He then cited deforestation, urban crowding, and wet markets for wild game as causes for these looming pandemics.
How exactly does a global warming climate lead to more pandemics? In an interview with USA Today, Aaron Bernstein, MD, director of Harvard University's T.H. Chan C-CHAN, said, "We do know that climate change alters how we relate to other species on Earth and that matters to our health and our risk for infections." He added: "As the planet heats up, animals big and small, on land and in the sea, are headed to the poles to get out of the heat. That means animals are coming into contact with other animals they normally wouldn't, and that creates an opportunity for pathogens to get into new hosts."
But that's not the only way climate change can contribute to pandemics. Jeff Masters, PhD, a meteorologist who contributes to Yale Climate Connections, noted that an increase in heat waves leads to more people spending more time indoors in air-conditioned spaces, where pathogens can spread via recycled air.
Masters also told USA Today that the global reach of diseases spread by mosquitoes is worsened by climate change, too. Malaria, Zika, chikungunya, dengue fever, and the West Nile virus are all more likely to spread into areas where they currently are not endemic due to warmer climates.
So as the global ecosystem gets warmer, more living creatures are traveling further from where they had long remained—and this new interspecies commingling is leading to more novel pathogens for us to combat. And for more on the current pandemic, check out This Is When Experts Say the Next COVID Surge Will Happen in the U.S.