(ORDO NEWS) — Humanity must prepare for the fact that thousands of new viruses and diseases will pass from animals to humans in the coming decades, a new study says. Scientists call climate change the main culprit of this process. It will start in Southeast Asia, one of several risk hotspots.
A Georgetown University study titled “Climate Change Increases Risk of Cross-Species Virus Transmission,” published today in the journal Nature, predicts that there will be at least 15,000 new cases of cross-species transmission by 2070. This will happen if the global temperature rises by 2 degrees Celsius.
A warming climate of this magnitude will lead to massive displacement of wildlife as they try to adapt to changing environmental conditions. At the same time, the study explains that such scenarios are likely already taking place.
Many animals will carry their parasites and pathogens to new territories, which can set off a chain reaction of viruses and disease. During animal migration, species often meet each other for the first time, the researchers say, creating unique opportunities for virus transmission.
The authors of the study predict that in the next 50 years, an increasing number of new infectious diseases will be transmitted from animals to humans, especially in Africa and Asia.
Computer simulations have identified potential hotspots for future virus sharing. Wildlife migration due to climate change is projected to cause at least 15,000 virus transmissions between species by 2070.
Dense cities in tropical Asia and Africa are potential hotspots for the spread of viruses in the future, researchers say.
The study noted areas of high population density in parts of Asia and Africa, as well as broad tropical regions where zoonoses are known to spread most frequently.
Bats are likely to become a key carrier and transmitter of the virus in the future, the study says.
“Due to their unique ability to spread, bats make up the majority of new viral exchanges and are likely to transmit viruses in evolutionary pathways that will facilitate their emergence in humans in the future,” the study authors wrote.
“Surprisingly, we have found that this ecological transition may already be underway, and keeping warming below 2 degrees Celsius for a century will not reduce future virus sharing.”
The study calls for increased surveillance and monitoring of the movements of various animals to manage this risk.
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