How Coronavirus is Related to
Climate Changeam - Stand With Me
By Carole Upshur
Sixty to seventy percent of new human infectious diseases come from animals, called zoonoses. Zoonoses include the coronavirus, influenza, AIDS, Ebola, rabies, and bubonic plague.
Why does climate matter?
• A warming climate increases the range of insects and other species that can bring new diseases to areas like Westchester.
• Warming climate and population growth disrupt the ability of subsistence farmers to grow crops, resulting in their migration to clear forests, putting them in contact with wild animals that carry diseases not previously transmitted to humans.
• As wilderness areas decrease, wild animals migrate to populated areas, increasing their contact with humans.
• Air pollution, environmental toxins, and extreme weather affect how well our bodies can cope with diseases like coronavirus.
The possible role of bats in coronavirus.
One theory about origins of the coronavirus is from bats. Unfortunately, humans can easily catch viruses endemic to bats. Bites can happen anywhere, but cultural preferences for wild meat or medicinal cures from wild animals increase human-bat contact. Wet markets with various species kept in cages near each other and slaughtered on the spot, provide opportunity for transmission of airborne and blood-or feces-borne pathogens.
What other climate-related diseases have reached Westchester?
Most new diseases in our area come from ticks. There has been a 65% increase in recent years in diseases from tick-born parasites, bacteria, and viruses. In 2019, 56% of ticks collected in Westchester by the New York State monitoring project carried Lyme bacteria, 4% Babesiosis, and 6% Anaplasmosis. Anaplasmosis mimics some COVID-19 symptoms, such as aches and fevers. It can be easily treated with a common antibiotic, so it’s important to get tested for it as well as COVID-19.
Another major vector for human disease is mosquitoes. New York City had the first U.S. outbreak of West Nile virus, a mosquito-borne disease that transmits through birds. While the CDC reports no human cases so far this year in New York, there are a number in surrounding states, and it has been detected in local birds and mosquitoes. Eastern equine encephalitis (EEE) is a rare mosquito borne illness that has reached New York. There have been no cases since 2011, but it is usually fatal. Mosquitoes carrying Dengue fever and Zika do not breed in the Northeast yet but are spreading throughout the southern US.
How can we protect ourselves?
We need to follow coronavirus precautions, and keep up with all vaccinations, especially for influenza which many of us don’t take seriously enough. We need to be tick and mosquito smart outdoors: staying on trails, wearing long-sleeved clothing, using insect repellant, doing tick checks of children and dogs.
We also need to support investment in climate change amelioration, public health, and scientific infrastructure—including monitoring like New York state does of ticks and mosquitos--to detect known and possibly new pathogens. Monitoring of commercial agriculture animals in the US and abroad is also important since some pathogens from the wild first infect pigs, cows, and poultry which in turn pass disease on to humans.
Carole Upshur, EdD, is Professor Emeritus, Department of Family Medicine and Community Health, University of Massachusetts Medical School and a member of the Bronxville Green Committee