Five questions about pandemics and climate change, answered

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By Grace Springer

Photo via MaxPixel

What is a pandemic? 

According to the Columbia School of Public Health, a pandemic is, “a virus [that] covers a wide area, affecting several countries and populations.” An outbreak is declared a pandemic when it is spread exponentially.  

What types of diseases are affected by climate change?  

There are two types of diseases that are affected by climate change—vector-borne diseases and zoonotic diseases. 

Whatarevector-borne diseases? 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), vector-borne diseases are diseases spread to humans by insects that feed on blood such as mosquitos and fleas. Due to global warming, these insects are increasingly able to survive in more areas of the world and are therefore spread to more hosts. 

Wael Al-Delaimy, epidemiologist and professor at the University of California San Diego, said warmer weather due to global warming has already shown an increase in vector-borne diseases transmission. 

“We already have many documentations of vector-borne diseases associated with climate change,” he said. “Malaria, dengue fever, Lyme Disease and many other mosquito or tick transmitted diseases are spreading because of warmer weather from climate change.” 

For more information consult the CDC website

What are zoonotic diseases? 

According to the CDC, “Zoonotic diseases (also known as zoonoses) are caused by germs that spread between animals and people.” Deforestation and loss of habitat forces species to move and come into close contact with humans and other animals, which gives pathogens the opportunity to spread to more hosts. 

For more information, review previous reporting from Climate360 on zoonotic diseases, their prevention and their connection to climate change.

How can we prevent future pandemics? 

There are many actions we can take to prevent future pandemics. 

We must take primary prevention steps to prevent the spillover of diseases from animals to humans. Such actions include better pathogen surveillance, wildlife and hunting management and forest protection, particularly pushing for legislation to stop deforestation. 

To prevent the spread of vector-borne diseases, we must take action to address climate change. According to the CDC, “Reducing the release of heat-trapping gases like CO2 can help protect our health and wellbeing by decreasing impacts on our climate system.” 

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