Coronavirus and climate change: are they related?

Antimicrobial resistance, habitat loss, climate change and other factors are increasing the possibilities of the global outbreak of novel diseases. Could there be any relationship between COVID-19 and climate change? It might just be too early to establish such a relationship due to the limited sources of information. While there is no evidence that suggests that this virus was activated by global warming and climate change, there are different scientific studies that indicate that a warming climate along with other factors, contribute to the emergence of new infectious diseases.

For decades, it has been established that the climate crisis would have a great impact on the way diseases emerge and spread across the globe. However, climate change is not the only factor for the emergence of viruses. Intensive meat production, antimicrobial resistance, rapid urbanisation and globalisation, deforestation and other such factors increase the chances of new infectious diseases like the coronavirus.

Climate change multiplies these risks by altering the growing environment of the viruses and their vectors. With a rise in global temperature, the transmission period is enhanced and the geographical distribution is expanded. For instance, malaria and dengue thrive better in warmer climates. Climate change makes winters shorter and milder. This gives mosquitoes, rats and other disease-carrying vectors extended breeding periods. Warmer climates allow them to thrive at higher altitudes too, thereby carrying the diseases to new places.

Habitat loss and intensive animal farms, along with climate change, bring animals and humans into closer proximity. This increases the chances of viruses and bacteria being transferred to humans from animals. The Zika virus, MERS (the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) and SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) are zoonotic diseases, transferred from animals to humans.

Climate change also makes immune systems less effective, which in turn makes us susceptible to novel pathogens. The human body has been designed in such a way that it can fight diseases by producing antibodies to fight viruses and bacteria. Pathogens are also killed by increasing the internal temperature of the body. However, in a warming planet, pathogens can survive in higher temperatures outside the human body. This makes them better equipped to handle the high heat in the body.

Due to AMR (antimicrobial resistance), modern medicine has become less effective. The overuse and misuse of antibiotics, and antiviral drugs in animals and humans produces superbugs that cannot be treated with modern medicine. Antibiotics are misused more in animals than in humans, which increases the risk of superbugs being transferred from animals to humans.

This complex interplay of climate change, AMR and other factors is the crux of the problem. However, even though the chances of deadly outbreaks have significantly increased in the last few decades, the ability to control them has certainly improved too. The WHO (World Health Organization) estimates over thousands of additional deaths annually by the 2030s. If no action is taken, diseases that are drug-resistant could cause millions of deaths every year by 2050. To safeguard our health, measures must be taken in advance.

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