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Researchers examine role of climate change in disease spread
Date:2/5/2009

GALVESTON, Texas Ever since scientists first proposed that our planet might be experiencing widespread climate change, concerns have been raised about its implications for the spread of arboviruses viruses carried by arthropods such as mosquitoes, midges and ticks. However, while alterations in temperature and rainfall are important factors in making new territory hospitable to an invading arbovirus, many other forces also play significant parts in new patterns of viral emergence.

That's the message of a paper in the February "Transactions of the Royal Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene" by University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston pathology professor Stephen Higgs and Oxford University professor Ernest A. Gould. In the article, Higgs and Gould examine the relative importance of climate change in the spread of four viruses that have captured headlines in the past 10 years: West Nile virus, Chikungunya virus, Rift Valley fever virus and Bluetongue virus.

"There's no doubt that during the past 50 years or so, patterns of emerging arbovirus diseases have changed significantly," Higgs said. "We picked prominent examples and asked how much is climate change a factor in these emergences?"

Since the viruses in question are carried either by mosquitoes (West Nile, Chikungunya, Rift Valley fever) or midges (Bluetongue), creatures whose activity and population increase in warm, moist environments, one would suspect that a transition to a warmer, wetter climate could have opened the door for their spread to a new region. According to Higgs, though, it's not that simple. "You can't disassociate arbovirus diseases from the climate," Higgs said, "but many other factors affected the spread of these arboviruses."

Those factors include genetic mutation, the introduction of new species of mosquitoes, the presence of an immunologically vulnerable human population and ease of transportation of infected humans (Chikungunya vi
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Contact: Jim Kelly
jpkelly@utmb.edu
409-772-8791
University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston
Source:Eurekalert

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