Meet The New Neighbors: Four Tropical Viruses That Could Make A Big Splash In North America Thanks To Climate Change
By Kurtis Bright
With Global Climate Change Just Starting To Flex Its Muscles, These Four Diseases Could Be Heading Your Way Soon
There’s no pleasing some people.
Among them let’s now count epidemiologists and virologists. Even as the Zika panic has largely subsided (strange how the latest, greatest threat to all mankind just disappeared off the radar altogether) these party poopers are seeking new, potentially devastating diseases that could jump to the next level and make an appearance in your Sunday paper--and possibly in your bloodstream--sometime soon.
These four bugs are the ones virologists say may be waiting in the wings for a chance to move up from understudy to a leading role.
- Mayaro - There is a lovely bay in Trinidad named Mayaro, but unfortunately it is a mosquito-borne virus that causes dengue fever-like symptoms which last three to five days. It is similar to chikungunya in some ways: it can bring fever, chills, rash and joint pain that can last more than a year. Another frightening similarity is that mayaro was once carried only by rain forest mosquitoes. In more recent times it ahs adapted to climate change, spreading out from its former range. It has now been found being carried by urban mosquitoes like the Aedes aegypti, the one that that carries Zika, and which GMO companies are so eager to modify in an attempt to engineer an end to Zika.
- Rift Valley Fever - With this infection comes fever, of course, but also chills and other symptoms. Sometimes it even progresses to hemorrhagic disease, with abnormal bleeding and brain swelling, in which case it leads to death 50 percent of the time. There is no known treatment. In 2000 Rift Valley Fever was found in the Arabian peninsula, the first time it has been found outside of Africa. Since then there have been tens of thousands of human infections and millions of livestock deaths. Not only that, the hemorrhagic version has become much more common: the rate of occurrence of the hemorrhagic variety has risen ten-fold. Due to the fact that over 30 species of mosquitoes can carry RVF, containment is a concern, to say the least.
- Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever - This killer is tick-borne, not mosquito-borne, which makes it slower to spread. That is a small comfort though, as it still manages to kill 40 percent of those who are infected: since it was first identified in 1944 it has emerged from Africa and gotten as far as China. And now there’s no telling how far it might go, with climate change altering the range of various insects like ticks.
- Usutu - European virologists are reporting that in the wake of a very warm summer there, they are facing a massive bird die-off in France, Belgium and Hungary, in part due to Usutu. With strong similarities to West Nile--Usutu also brings the attendant headaches, fevers, and neurological problems--and more serious symptoms are usually confined to people with compromised immune systems. However the warning over this one remains serious: because it is an avian virus it can easily circulate all over the world.
If the Zika panic taught us anything, it should be that science can sometimes jump the gun in warning of certain threats, due to political and public pressure. For instance, there still is no proven link between Zika and microcephaly, and the mainstream press refuses to take seriously the claims of several respected doctors’ organizations that heavy pesticide spraying in the areas so affected might actually be the cause--to do so would of course be politically and economically inconvenient.
However, with climate change pushing warmer weather ever-northward, we will doubtless see changes in the range of viruses as well as insects, all of which could directly affect our health and that of our loved ones.###