Ebola and Climate Change: How Are They Connected?
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As the Ebola virus ravages parts of West Africa, recent reports link the outbreak to past studies holding climate change accountable for the uptick in viral diseases.
In 2006, a study published in the journal Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene revealed that Ebola, a “violent hemorrhagic fever that leads to internal and external bleeding,” would be more frequent with global warming due to its intermittent connection to wildlife and climate. In 2008, another study reiterated the same fears, noting that Ebola outbreaks would be among a cluster of other diseases gaining momentum, such as bird flu, cholera, plague and tuberculosis.
“We are calling for increased attention and action in developing global monitoring networks to look at a wide variety of infectious diseases in a wide variety of wildlife since they are such sensitive indicators of the health of the systems in which they live,” said veterinarian William Karesh, Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS) vice president of global health programs, back in 2008.
In light of the recent outbreak, some researchers are connecting deforestation in countries such as Liberia to the disease, noting that the change in landscape is bringing wildlife in closer contact with humans. According to researchers, the virus is typically found in wildlife, and transmission from animals to humans occurs through contact with infected bodily fluids, causing a “spillover” in species. The virus can also be contracted from another human being when a person is in direct contact with infected blood, vomit or feces during contagious periods, putting health workers in West Africa primarily at risk.
Among other causes, “seasonal droughts, strong winds, thunderstorms, landslides, heat waves, floods and changed rainfall patterns,” are also thought to draw wildlife migration away from their natural habitat to human proximity. WCS affirms that Ebola outbreaks typically occur after “unusual downpours or droughts in central Africa—a likely result of climate change.” Climate change would in turn amplify food insecurity, and prompt even more remote West African communities to eat virus-carrying animals like bats.
“We already know climate change is weakening crop yields,” says Kristie Ebi, professor of global health at the University of Washington. “When there’s high food insecurity, how will people go about making sure that they have enough food for their families?”
The virus has claimed nearly 1,000 lives in West Africa with 1,800 currently suffering from the illness. According to reports from the CBC, there are no vaccines or antiviral drugs available to treat the disease, and the mortality rate is estimated at 60 percent.