How climate change might affect future pandemics

Screenshot of file video
Screenshot of file video (Copyright 2021 by Cleveland Clinic News Service. All rights reserved.)

Earth Day is a time to think about the environment and global warming and climate change are often top of mind.

The gradual warming of the earth’s atmosphere affects extreme weather like droughts and hurricanes.

You may not realize it, but these types of natural disasters can play a role in disease spread and pandemics.

“In some cases it can displace certain animal species and thereby bring them in closer contact with humans, either directly with humans or via domestic animals, and this then facilitates cross-species transmission so that viruses can be transmitted from these wild animal species onto humans and thereby cause outbreaks,” said Michaela Gack, PhD, Director, Cleveland Clinic’s Florida Research and Innovation Center.

Disease-causing organisms are emerging faster than ever before and the interval between outbreaks is getting shorter. 

As the earth warms, scientists are concerned about an increase in mosquito-borne viruses and infectious diseases spread by animals.

There’s also the possibility that long-dormant viruses frozen in ice could be released by thawing polar regions.

Gack said climate change is a combination of natural and human factors.

We can’t control some of the natural aspects of climate change, but we can certainly make a difference on the human impact.

Carbon emissions accelerate climate change and even small efforts to reduce them — like walking or biking instead of driving — can help.

“I think all of us can contribute to reducing the burden on the environment,” said Gack. “I think many of these could be easily done. And thereby we could really make a difference in at least the aspect and the part we can control in terms of climate change.”

According to Dr. Gack, in the past 20 years, several viral outbreaks have been linked to a combination of human and environmental factors, including SARS, MERS and Ebola.