Climate change could trigger future pandemics, the study says

Global warming could fuel future pandemics by dramatically increasing the risk of transmitting viruses from animals to humans, researchers warned Thursday, highlighting other hidden and far-reaching costs of the climate crisis.


  • As the planet warms, many animals will be forced to find new places to live, taking with them the parasites and pathogens they carry, researchers wrote in the journal Nature.
  • Researchers examined how climate change could alter the geographical range of about 3,100 mammalian species by 2070 and how this might affect virus transmission between species.
  • Even under the most optimistic climate projections (warming below 2°C), researchers predict that by 2070, for the first time, climate change will trigger at least 15,000 new cases of the species-crossing virus.
  • According to the researchers, these “spillover” events are primarily driven by bats – which can travel great distances, can carry pathogens capable of infecting humans and are widely believed to be the main source of Covid-19 – and will be concentrated in densely populated areas of Asia and Africa.
  • While it’s unclear exactly how the new viruses will affect the species involved, Dr. Gregory Albery, one of the lead authors of the study and a disease ecologist at Georgetown University, said it was “likely” that many of them “will add to the urgency of new epidemics in people.”
  • As human activities are causing temperatures to rise, this process may already be well underway, the researchers warned, adding that efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions may not be enough to prevent increased virus transmission between species.


Viruses transmitted from species to species can also have dramatic impacts on wildlife and conservation, the researchers warned. They said nearly 3,700 different animals could be encountering the 13 species likely to spread the Ebola virus due to climate change for the first time. Beyond humans, the Ebola virus is having a devastating impact on primate populations, including gorillas, which are threatened with extinction. The researchers said it would be useful to study other animals in future work, particularly amphibians – which are already battling a fungal plague that has wiped out at least 90 species – and marine mammals. It will also be important to understand the impact of climate change on birds and the pathogens they carry, the researchers said. Next to mammals, the bird viral ecosystem is the best documented and it is there that we find most of the viruses transmissible to humans.

Considerable number

10,000 That’s the number of viruses that researchers say can infect humans. The vast majority of them circulate “discretely” among wild mammals. Incidents of contamination are generally rare, although they have become more frequent due to problems such as habitat destruction, wildlife trade, and industrialized agriculture that bring animals into closer contact with humans.

Article translated from Forbes US – Author: Robert Hart

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