Is Climate Change Contagious?

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“All I maintain is that on this earth there are pestilences and there are victims, and it’s up to us, so far as possible, not to join forces with the pestilences.”
― Albert Camus, The Plague

Given the plague of zombies we’re seeing this Halloween, I thought I’d remind everyone that zombies are brought back to life through one of several causes. The most prevalent seems to be the spread of some unknown virus that kills then reanimates people with a craving for murder and brains. An alternate cause may be some kind of cosmic phenomena — a comet or solar flare. And, of course, the original zombie creation was through the magic of voodoo, in which a priest could raise the dead to do their bidding.

I don’t know for sure that this could precipitate a plague of zombies, but evidence shows that climate changes appear to be exacerbating the spread of diseases and messing up the earth’s protective ozone layer. Hmmmm …

Reporter Yessenia Funes notes, “The World Health Organization has been clear that climate change will increase the number of cases of infectious diseases. This is largely due to the environment becoming more suitable for vectors such as mosquitos, which thrive in wet, hot environments and pathogens from cholera to Lyme disease.”

On the other hand, Helen Santoro quotes researcher Morgan Gorris, “With climate change, more states are becoming hotter and more arid, creating the perfect environment for the (Valley Fever) fungus to grow.” Santoro continues, “Now, new research suggests that Valley fever will continue to spread as the climate changes. This growth is a reflection of a greater trend across the nation as mosquito-borne West Nile virus and tick-borne Lyme disease also expand their range.”

“… it’s imperative for state officials to understand what is causing infectious diseases to move from one region to another. One factor is climate change, which is creating more environments where such illnesses can thrive. Take Lyme disease: With higher annual temperatures, ticks are more abundant and have increased opportunities to infect their hosts … As the climate changes, the spread of diseases will likely become a more critical public health issue …”

But it’s not only nature that we need to worry about. The rise in autoimmune diseases may be caused in part by us, according to Tessa Love. “Researchers largely assume that the cause of the rise can be pinpointed to changes in our environment, which in turn are causing changes in our bodies. Over the past 100 years, humanity has drastically altered the way we lived for the majority of existence.” And Graham Rook, emeritus professor of medical microbiology at University College London says, “Epidemiologically, the point is confirmed that if you don’t have the right organisms in your gut at a certain critical point in your development, then there are defects in the immune system …”

Love points out, “the overuse of antibiotics and the rise of superbugs; with industrialized farming comes the rise of chemicals and processed foods — all of which could have something to do with the onset of autoimmunity … As such, autoimmune diseases could be the product of our own success as an industrialized species.” Our lack of healthy bacteria “has been compromised in developed nations due to less exposure to green spaces, a less varied diet, the overuse of antibiotics, and falling rates of breastfeeding and natural birth, Rook argues … It’s not so much our cleanliness but our increasingly industrial lifestyle that is blocking the intake of these important microorganisms.” But we don’t really know, “… even meteorological components, such as ultraviolet radiation, temperature, and humidity, could be triggering autoimmunity.”

But we do know that pestilence is spread through disease vectors that we can understand. Funes quotes researcher David Redding, “Climate change is happening, and we need to know how it will impact disease-carrying species … This knowledge will help us predict the future burden of disease and better plan for it. But climate change is happening in tandem with many other processes such as land-use and human development, so we need to consider these all together and capture how they interact with one another to alter disease risk to human health in the future.”

Given that climate change could drastically affect the habitability of many areas, worldwide food production and social order, it becomes even more important to plan for and mitigate the effects of climate change. Funes describes a new video game that challenges player to survive a cross-country trek in “an apocalyptic future where everything is so screwed that a Climate Trail is the only way to safety.”

Redding makes the point, “addressing climate change can reduce the spread of Ebola. But you know what’s even more effective? Addressing poverty. If African countries that are at-risk of outbreaks had the tools and resources to respond to health crises, they would not spiral out of control in the first place.”

That’s a good lesson for the rest of us as well. If we sit back and let climate change happen to us without preparation, we will be swept away by myriad forces of destruction — catastrophic weather, drought, famine, mass migration, war, pestilence and disease.

And, we haven’t even started with the zombies, yet!

Additional information:
Yessenia Funes, A New Video Game Tests Whether You Can Survive the Climate Apocalypse, October 25, 2019, Earther Newsletter
Yessenia Funes, Fighting Climate Change Is Key to Preventing Future Ebola Epidemics, Study Finds, October 18, 2019, Earther Newsletter
Tessa Love, Why Are Autoimmune Diseases on the Rise? April 10, 2019, elemental
Helen Santoro, Diseases are Spreading With Climate Change. Panic Doesn’t Have To., October 16, 2019, High Country News

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