Destroy Nature, Destroy Ourselves

 

Destroying Nature Unleashes Infectious Diseases - NYTimes.com

Destroying Nature Unleashes Infectious Diseases – NYTimes.com.

THERE’S a term biologists and economists use these days — ecosystem services — which refers to the many ways nature supports the human endeavor. Forests filter the water we drink, for example, and birds and bees pollinate crops, both of which have substantial economic as well as biological value.

These are positive benefits of working with nature to the betterment of humankind.  but more often than not, we manage to work against nature, and it usually backfires.

A critical example is a developing model of infectious disease that shows that most epidemics — AIDS, Ebola, West Nile, SARS, Lyme disease and hundreds more that have occurred over the last several decades — don’t just happen. They are a result of things people do to nature.

Turns out over 60% of emerging diseases originate in animals, then jump to humans as a result of close contact.  Usually the contact has to do with people encroaching on or disturbing animal habitats.

Teams of veterinarians and conservation biologists are in the midst of a global effort with medical doctors and epidemiologists to understand the “ecology of disease.”

If researchers can pinpoint likely hotspots, they may be able to prevent or at least control epidemics before they become pandemics.

It isn’t only a public health issue, but an economic one. The World Bank has estimated that a severe influenza pandemic, for example, could cost the world economy $3 trillion.

The article discusses problems with the new highway that cuts across South America from Brazil to the Pacific:

… one study showed an increase in deforestation by some 4 percent increased the incidence of malaria by nearly 50 percent, because mosquitoes, which transmit the disease, thrive in the right mix of sunlight and water in recently deforested areas. Developing the forest in the wrong way can be like opening Pandora’s box. These are the kinds of connections the new teams are unraveling.

Lyme disease is a result of human caused changes in the environment.  We fragmented forests, reduced their range, and killed off predators.  This lead to a five-fold increase in white-footed mice, the number one incubator for infected tick nymphs.

The best way to prevent the next outbreak [of new diseases] in humans, specialists say, is with what they call the One Health Initiative — a worldwide program, involving more than 600 scientists and other professionals, that advances the idea that human, animal and ecological health are inextricably linked and need to be studied and managed holistically.

Really interesting article.  Will scientists be able to convince the public and policy-makers that we need to focus on this?  Maybe, because the costs of not doing so could be enormous.

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