Climate Change Will Increase Virus Spread From Animals To Humans, Study Says

The study says that by 2070, thousands more viruses will have an increased chance to jump from animals to humans.

2 min read

A new study says that climate change has led to an increase in the chances that thousands of viruses found in wild animals will spread to humans.

The study, published in Nature journal, says that climate change and changes to the way land is used will give viruses fresh opportunities to jump between animals and this increases the chances they will transmit from animals to humans in the next 50 years.

Which means, in a nutshell, COVID-19 won't be the last of the viruses to jump from animals to humans.

The study states that this process may already have begun, and that limiting climate change and global warming in this century may not reduce this potential future virus sharing.

And bad news for us Indians, it says areas with high human populations will be especially susceptible.

We predict that species will aggregate in new combinations at high elevations, in biodiversity hotspots, and in areas of high human population density in Asia and Africa, driving the novel cross-species transmission of their viruses an estimated 4,000 times.

How Bad Is The Situation?

The study asserts that over 9000 species of viruses capable of infecting humans are currently circulating quietly in wild mammals.

Changes to land usage and climate change together create fresh opportunities for these viruses to do what's called a "zoonotic spillover" - which is fancy talk for they'll transmit from animals to humans.

It won't be the first time this has happened either.

A 2021 study states that around 70 percent of infectious diseases that affect humans start as pathogens circulating in non-human animal species.

It adds that zoonotic spillover plays a fundamental role in the emergence of new human infectious diseases like the SARS-CoV-2 virus responsible for COVID-19, or the H1N1 swine flu virus.

The study adds that bats will account for the majority of this virus transmission, and will even spread viruses along evolutionary pathways which will emerge in humans in the future. Unfortunately this does little good for the reputation of bats, already tarnished by the spread of COVID-19.

So, What Now?

The study goes on to say that simply working on limiting or stopping climate change won't stop these viruses from spreading. It's far too late for that already, and some of these zoonotic spillovers have already begun.

"Our findings highlight an urgent need to pair viral surveillance and discovery efforts with biodiversity surveys tracking species’ range shifts, especially in tropical regions that harbor the most zoonoses and are experiencing rapid warming."

The study makes it clear that even limiting climate change at this point will not stop or reduce the spread of these viruses.

Other activities that will increase the risk of animal-to-human virus transmission or pathogen transmission include poaching, handling, and eating meat from wild animals.

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is one such virus, which jumped from apes to humans likely because of eating or handling primate meat.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

Speaking truth to power requires allies like you.
Become a Member
Read More