How Global Warming May Cause Other Coronaviruses

Scientists warn of a virus epidemic in 2070 with more than 15,000 species transfers, even though we limit global warming.

EPIDEMIC – Like lice, viruses will spread very rapidly from species to species over the next fifty years. 15,000 new viral transmissions are expected in 2070 under the influence of a warming of + 2 ° C compared to the pre-industrial era, warns a new study published Thursday, April 28 in the scientific journal Nature.

Viral exchanges that will inevitably lead to new zoonoses, diseases transmitted from wild animals to humans. A form of infectious disease that we know well now because it is one of the preferred ways to explain the emergence of Covid-19.

So what is the connection with global warming? The researchers explain that zoonotic pathogens are spread by mammals fleeing their natural habitat. It is therefore a forced migration due to the temperature rise. “These geographical shifts may facilitate the division of viruses between species that previously had no interaction, which in turn may promote the transmission of pathogens from wild animals to humans,” they write.

Viruses already circulating between species

To predict these unlikely interactions, the authors examined the evolution of the habitats of almost 4,000 mammals according to different climatic scenarios by 2070. Even with warming below 2 ° C, the limit not to be exceeded under the Paris Agreement, “it happens, and we can not go back “, explains Gregory Albery, a researcher from Georgetown University and one of the authors of this study, during a press conference where HuffPost have helped.

The phenomenon is even already underway, the researchers worry. With global warming already a reality, species are forced to flee the hottest places on the planet. Logically, the resulting viral development has already begun. To limit the spread, scientists call for maximum vigilance: “We must target the monitoring of future ‘hot spots’ on the planet”.

Monitor to limit spread

Tropical Africa and Southeast Asia are especially on the radar of scientists for three reasons. Firstly, due to the use of the land for intensive agriculture, which brings people closer to animals whose habitat is disturbed. Then there are areas of high human density where epidemics can spread very quickly. Finally, climate change is already visible there, as evidenced by numerous episodes of drought.

Another point of alertness, the species that can incubate viruses that can be transmitted to humans. The bat is well monitored by scientists. It is a host valued by pathogenic substances and able to house viruses that can be transmitted to humans. This animal is the cause of the Covid-19 pandemic according to several scientific theses. But also many other zoonoses such as Ebola, Nipah or Hendra viruses.

10,000 “potentially zoonotic” viruses are currently circulating in mammals. Among them, it is impossible for the authors of this study to pinpoint the future responsible for the coming epidemics. “There is a risk of spreading viruses and Ebola-type viruses, but there may be surprises,” says Colin Carlson of Georgetown University and also author of this work.

Climate control is not enough

To limit the consequences of these viruses, “the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions (…) alone can not reduce the likelihood of virus sharing due to the climate”, the researchers also add. Worse, a slow warming would even tend to accelerate the occurrence of viruses. Slower development of climate change allows species to better adapt to them by spreading. But the more species migrate, the greater the number of first encounters with other species.

It is clear that limiting global warming will not be enough. To prevent these exchanges of viruses from becoming a pandemic, people must also reduce their activities that are harmful to the environment, such as intensive agriculture and wildlife trade. “We also need to think about a better health care system,” recalls Colin Carlson. The WHO and the UN have for years defended the idea of ​​linking human, animal and environmental health to prevent pandemics.

Also look at The HuffPost: Global warming: at the poles, the second catastrophe to go unnoticed

This article was originally published on HuffPost and has been updated.


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