Infectious Diseases Spread as Climate Changes

by Vins
Published: Last Updated on

As the climate continue to change, invasive species will continue to seek out favorable climates. Ebola and West Nile are just the first of many. Daniel Brooks of the Laboratory of Parasitology at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, is a co-author of a February 2015 report that documents how the appearance of diseases in new places and new hosts will be standard as climate change continues.

For the past 30 years, Brooks, and his co-author, zoologist Eric Hoberg, observed climates heavily impacted by climate change. Brooks was in the tropics and Hoberg was in the Arctic. In both regions, the scientists observed that parasites retained ancestral genetic abilities allowing them to adapt to environmental changes by quickly acquiring a new host. For example, in the Canadian Arctic lungworms have moved northward and shifted hosts from caribou to muskoxen because they prefer colder climates.

Because they have not built up an immunity, new hosts are more susceptible to infections and may get sicker.

For more than 100 years, it was thought parasites lacked the ability to quickly jump from one host species to another because of parasite and host co-evolution. Unfortunately, we do not know when the next major outbreak will take place, and Brooks is calling for greater collaboration between public, veterinary and museum communities.

“We have to admit we’re not winning the war against emerging diseases. We’re not anticipating them.” said Brooks.

Source: Justin Beach, “Climate change will bring infectious diseases to new regions says study,” National Monitor, February 16, 2015,

Student Researcher: Ashley Ibarra (San Francisco State University)

Faculty Researcher: Kenn Burrows (San Francisco State University)