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US News Deforestation is leading to more infectious diseases in humans

02:40  23 november  2019
02:40  23 november  2019 Source:   nationalgeographic.com

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As more and more forest is cleared around the world, scientists fear that the next deadly pandemic could emerge from what lives within them. Rainforest is cleared for cattle farming along the Trans-Amazonian Highway. Clearing like this is linked to the spread of infectious diseases like malaria.

"Being part of a multi-disciplinary team that includes veterinarians, mathematicians, ecologists and economists has broadened my perspective on how science can be applied to have a real impact in the world. At EcoHealth Alliance, we make use of all the available tools in epidemiology, ecology

a giraffe standing next to a tree: Rainforest is cleared for cattle farming along the Trans-Amazonian Highway. Clearing like this is linked to the spread of infectious diseases like malaria. © Photograph by Richard Barnes, Nat Geo Image Collection

Rainforest is cleared for cattle farming along the Trans-Amazonian Highway. Clearing like this is linked to the spread of infectious diseases like malaria.

In 1997, clouds of smoke hung over the rainforests of Indonesia as an area roughly the size of Pennsylvania was burned to make way for agriculture, the fires exacerbated by drought. Smothered in haze, the trees couldn’t produce fruit, leaving resident fruit bats with no other option than to fly elsewhere in search of food, carrying with them a deadly disease.

Not long after the bats settled on trees in Malaysian orchards, pigs around them started to fall sick—presumably after eating fallen fruit the bats had nibbled on—as did local pig farmers. By 1999, 265 people had developed a severe brain inflammation, and 105 had died. It was the first known emergence of Nipah virus in people, which has since caused a string of recurrent outbreaks across Southeast Asia.

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Forests and emerging infectious diseases of humans . B.A. Wilcox and B. Ellis. Forests or deforestation per se are not the cause of either forest-associated infectious disease emergence or the This has led to a hypothesis that mechanisms associated with agricultural land use changes

The number of catalogued emerging infectious diseases (EIDs), and especially those that For example, it is now clear that human /chimpanzee contacts led to the HIV pandemic (Keele et al The impacts of deforestation on avian infectious diseases will be diverse and in many cases go


It’s one of many infectious diseases usually confined to wildlife that have spilled over to people in areas undergoing rapid forest clearing. Over the past two decades, a growing body of scientific evidence suggests that deforestation, by triggering a complex cascade of events, creates the conditions for a range of deadly pathogens—such as Nipah and Lassa viruses, and the parasites that cause malaria and Lyme disease—to spread to people.

As widespread burning continues today in tropical forests in the Amazon, and some parts of Africa and Southeast Asia, experts have expressed concern about the health of people living at the frontiers of deforestation. They’re also afraid that the next serious pandemic could emerge from our world’s forests.

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Most likely because deforestation usually cause the vectors of these disease to look for another home which most of them do find their ways near human Deforestation doesn't directly cause viruses and diseases in humans , however deforestation can lead to creatures which don't normally have

The common belief is that deforestation and anthropization will lead to the disappearance of species. Until now, there is no evidence for CoV circulating in bats to be directly at the origin of infection in humans . The SARS-like bat CoV was transmitted to humans after having evolved in the

“It’s pretty well established that deforestation can be a strong driver of infectious disease transmission,” says Andy MacDonald, a disease ecologist at the Earth Research Institute of the University of California, Santa Barbara. “It’s a numbers game: The more we degrade and clear forest habitats, the more likely it is that we’re going to find ourselves in these situations where epidemics of infectious diseases occur.”

A direct link

Malaria—which kills over a million annually due to infection by Plasmodium parasites transmitted by mosquitoes—has long been suspected of going hand in hand with deforestation. In Brazil, while control efforts have dramatically reduced malaria transmission in the past—bringing 6 million cases a year in the 1940s down to just 50,000 by the 1960s—cases have since been steadily rising again in parallel with rapid forest clearing and expansion of agriculture. At the turn of the century, there were over 600,000 cases a year in the Amazon basin.

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Of those numerous diseases , perhaps none is more common than infectious diseases , which are defined by WHO as "any pathogenic microorganism that can be Hepatitis B According to current statistics, hepatitis B is the most common infectious disease in the world, affecting some 2 billion

That disruption leads to more extreme temperature swings that can be harmful to plants and animals. If tropical deforestation were a country, according to the World Resources Institute, it would rank third in carbon dioxide-equivalent emissions, behind China and the U.S.

a man flying through the air while riding skis: A man sprays to kill the Aedes mosquito that carries the yellow fever virus in Matadi, Democratic Republic of the Congo. © Photograph by William Daniels, Nat Geo Image Collection

A man sprays to kill the Aedes mosquito that carries the yellow fever virus in Matadi, Democratic Republic of the Congo.


Work in the late 1990s by Amy Vittor, an epidemiologist at the University of Florida’s Emerging Pathogens Institute, and others, suggested a reason why. Clearing patches of forest appears to create ideal habitat along forest edges for the mosquito Anopheles darlingi—the most important transmitter of malaria in the Amazon—to breed. Through careful surveys in the Peruvian Amazon, she found higher numbers of larvae in warm, partially shaded pools, the kind that form beside roads cut into forests and puddles behind debris where water is no longer taken up by trees.

“Those were the [places] that Anopheles darlingi really enjoyed being,” Vittor recalls.

In a complex analysis of satellite and health data published recently in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, MacDonald and Stanford University’s Erin Mordecai reported a significant impact of deforestation across the Amazon basin on malaria transmission, in line with some previous research.

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Infectious Diseases (a.k.a: Transmissible or Communicable or Contagious Diseases ) are common illnesses caused by pathogens. Pathogens are highly adaptable in humans because of their replicative and mutational capacities making the treatment difficult for severe infections .

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Gallery: 13 photos that show how humans have changed the world's forests (INSIDER)

a field with a mountain in the background:     Illegal logging and mining in the Amazon rain forest cause    drastic levels of deforestation.        Disappearing forests push endangered    wildlife into populated areas.        Deliberately burning forests to develop the land can cause          heavy air pollution.              Visit      Insider's home page for more stories.          Every year,     18.7 million acres of forest disappear, according to the    World Wildlife Fund.      Deforestation, pollution, climate change, and old fashioned human    carelessness are wreaking    havoc on the world's forests. In the past few weeks, the    Brazilian Amazon     has been burning at a record rate. Some of these fires were    started by farmers and loggers     seeking to use Amazonian land for industrial or agricultural    purposes.      Here are 13 photos that show just how much our forests have    changed.

Between 2003 and 2015, on average, they estimated that a 10 percent yearly increase in forest loss led to a 3 percent rise in malaria cases. For example, in one year of the study, an additional 618-square-mile (1,600-square-kilometer) patch of cleared forest—the equivalent of nearly 300,000 football fields—was linked to an additional 10,000 cases of malaria. This effect was most pronounced in the interior of the forest, where some patches of forest are still intact, providing the moist edge habitat that the mosquitoes like.

With the ongoing burning of the Amazon, these results don’t bode well; The latest data, issued this week, reveals an area 12 times the size of New York City has been destroyed so far this year.

A tractor is used to move logs in Bom Retiro deforestation area on the right side of the BR 319 highway near Humaita, Amazonas state, Brazil September 20, 2019. Picture taken September 20, 2019. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly © Thomson Reuters A tractor is used to move logs in Bom Retiro deforestation area on the right side of the BR 319 highway near Humaita, Amazonas state, Brazil September 20, 2019. Picture taken September 20, 2019. REUTERS/Bruno Kelly

“I am concerned about what’s going to happen with transmission following the end of the fires,” MacDonald says.

It’s hard to generalize about mosquito ecology, which varies depending on species and region, Vittor stresses. In Africa, studies have found little association between malaria and deforestation—perhaps because the mosquito species there like to breed in sunlit bodies of water and favor open farmland over shady forest areas. But in Sabah, a part of Malaysian Borneo, malaria outbreaks also occur in tandem with bursts of forest clearing for palm oil and other plantations.

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Fever from the jungle

Mosquitoes aren’t the only animals that can transmit deadly scourges to people. In fact, 60 percent of new infectious diseases that emerge in people—including HIV, Ebola, and Nipah, all of which originated in forest-dwelling animals—are transmitted by a range of other animals, the vast majority of them wildlife.

In a 2015 study, researchers at Ecohealth Alliance, a New York-based non-profit that tracks infectious diseases globally, and others found that “nearly one in three outbreaks of new and emerging disease[s] are linked to land-use change like deforestation,” the organization’s president Peter Daszak tweeted earlier this year.

Deforestation advances into the jungle near Jaci Parana, state of Rondonia, Brazil, Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019. Brazil says military aircraft and 44,000 troops will be available to fight fires sweeping through parts of the Amazon region. The defense and environment ministers have outlined plans to battle the blazes that have prompted an international outcry as well as demonstrations in Brazil against President Jair Bolsonaro's handling of the environmental crisis. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres) © ASSOCIATED PRESS Deforestation advances into the jungle near Jaci Parana, state of Rondonia, Brazil, Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019. Brazil says military aircraft and 44,000 troops will be available to fight fires sweeping through parts of the Amazon region. The defense and environment ministers have outlined plans to battle the blazes that have prompted an international outcry as well as demonstrations in Brazil against President Jair Bolsonaro's handling of the environmental crisis. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)

Many viruses exist harmlessly with their host animals in forests, because the animals have co-evolved with them. But humans can become unwitting hosts for pathogens when they venture into or change forest habitat.

“We are completely changing the structure of the forest,” notes Carlos Zambrana-Torrelio, a disease ecologist at Ecohealth Alliance.

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Deadly attraction

Diseases can also occur when new habitats draw disease-carrying species out of the forest.

For instance, in Liberia forest clearings for palm oil plantations attract hordes of typically forest-dwelling mice, lured there by the abundance of palm fruit around plantations and settlements. Humans can contract Lassa virus when they come into contact with food or objects contaminated with feces or urine of virus-carrying rodents or bodily fluids of infected people. In humans, the virus causes hemorrhagic fever—the same kind of illness triggered by Ebola virus—and in Liberia killed 36 percent of infected people.

Wood logs stacks on the remains of the forest grubbed under the new road construction are seen in Gdansk, Poland on 11 November 2019  (Photo by Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images) © Michal Fludra/NurPhoto Wood logs stacks on the remains of the forest grubbed under the new road construction are seen in Gdansk, Poland on 11 November 2019 (Photo by Michal Fludra/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Virus-carrying rodents have also been spotted in deforested areas in Panama, Bolivia, and in Brazil. Alfonso Rodriguez-Morales, a medical researcher and tropical disease expert at Colombia’s Universidad Tecnológica de Pereira, fears that their ranges will increase following the resurgence of fires in the Amazon this year.

Such processes aren’t limited to tropical diseases. Some of MacDonald’s research has revealed a curious association between deforestation and Lyme disease in the Northeastern United States.

An aerial view shows illegal deforestation at Esperanca PDS, a Sustainable Settlement Project, in Anapu, Para state, Brazil, September 6, 2019. Picture taken with a drone. Picture taken September 6, 2019. REUTERS/Nacho Doce © Thomson Reuters An aerial view shows illegal deforestation at Esperanca PDS, a Sustainable Settlement Project, in Anapu, Para state, Brazil, September 6, 2019. Picture taken with a drone. Picture taken September 6, 2019. REUTERS/Nacho Doce

Borrelia burgdorferi, the bacterium that causes Lyme disease—is transmitted by ticks that rely on forest-dwelling deer to breed and obtain enough blood to survive. However, the bacterium is also found in the white-footed mouse, which happens to thrive in forests fragmented by human settlements, MacDonald says.

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Spillovers of infectious diseases to people is more likely to occur in the tropics because overall wildlife and pathogen diversity is higher, he adds. There, a number of diseases transmitted by a wide range of animals—from blood-sucking bugs to snails—have been linked to deforestation. On top of known diseases, scientists fear that a number of yet-unknown deadly diseases are lurking in forests that could be exposed as people encroach further.

Gallery: The secret big money battle to control the Amazon (Lovemoney)

a man holding a dog: For the past 500 years, swathes of the Amazon have been cleared for economic development, with the Brazilian government estimating that around 17% of the rainforest has been lost. Controversy has long surrounded the region, as big businesses attracted to natural resources including gold, crude oil, timber, and land for farming have clashed with indigenous people and environmentalists over how the forest should be used. Recent wildfires have sparked controversy as conservationists claim they're started intentionally by ranchers and loggers. Click through as we look at the global powers who have fought over the Amazon, past and present...

Zambrana-Torrelio notes that the likelihood of spillovers to people may increase as the climate warms, pushing animals, along with the viruses they carry, into regions where they’ve never existed before, he says.

Whether such diseases stay confined to forest fringes or if they gain their own foothold in people, unleashing a potential pandemic, depends on their transmission, Vittor says. Some viruses, like Ebola or Nipah, can be transmitted directly between people, theoretically allowing them to travel around the world as long as there are humans.

A cut tree stands in a burned area near the Krimej indigenous village of the Kayapo indigenous group in Altamira, Para state, Brazil, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019. Much of the deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is done illegally -- land grabbers burn areas to clear land for agriculture and loggers encroach on national forests and indigenous reserves. (AP Photo/Leo Correa) © ASSOCIATED PRESS A cut tree stands in a burned area near the Krimej indigenous village of the Kayapo indigenous group in Altamira, Para state, Brazil, Saturday, Aug. 31, 2019. Much of the deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon is done illegally -- land grabbers burn areas to clear land for agriculture and loggers encroach on national forests and indigenous reserves. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

Zika virus, which was discovered in Ugandan forests in the 20th century, could only cruise the world and infect millions because it found a host in Aedes aegpti, a mosquito that thrives in urban areas.

“I’d hate to think that another or several other pathogens could do such a thing, but it’d be foolish not to think of that as a possibility to prepare for,” says Vittor.

A new service

Ecohealth Alliance researchers have proposed that containing diseases could be considered a new ecosystem service, that is, a benefit that humans freely gain from natural ecosystems, just like carbon storage and pollination.

Aerial picture showing a deforested piece of land in the Amazon rainforest near an area affected by fires, about 65 km from Porto Velho, in the state of Rondonia, in northern Brazil, on August 23, 2019. - Bolsonaro said Friday he is considering deploying the army to help combat fires raging in the Amazon rainforest, after news about the fires have sparked protests around the world. The latest official figures show 76,720 forest fires were recorded in Brazil so far this year -- the highest number for any year since 2013. More than half are in the Amazon. (Photo by CARL DE SOUZA / AFP)        (Photo credit should read CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images) Aerial picture showing a deforested piece of land in the Amazon rainforest near an area affected by fires, about 65 km from Porto Velho, in the state of Rondonia, in northern Brazil, on August 23, 2019. - Bolsonaro said Friday he is considering deploying the army to help combat fires raging in the Amazon rainforest, after news about the fires have sparked protests around the world. The latest official figures show 76,720 forest fires were recorded in Brazil so far this year -- the highest number for any year since 2013. More than half are in the Amazon. (Photo by CARL DE SOUZA / AFP) (Photo credit should read CARL DE SOUZA/AFP/Getty Images)

To make that case, their team has been working in Malaysian Borneo to itemize the exact cost of malaria, down to each hospital bed, and syringe that doctors use. On average, they found that the Malaysian government spends around $5,000 to treat each new malaria patient in the region—in some areas much more than they spend on malaria control, Zambrana-Torrelio says.

Over time, that adds up, outweighing the profits that could be gained by cutting forests down and making a compelling financial argument to leave some forests standing, Daszak says.

Aerial view of deforestation in Nascentes da Serra do Cachimbo Biological Reserve in Altamira, Para state, Brazil, in the Amazon basin, on August 28, 2019. (Photo by Joao LAET / AFP)        (Photo credit should read JOAO LAET/AFP/Getty Images) Aerial view of deforestation in Nascentes da Serra do Cachimbo Biological Reserve in Altamira, Para state, Brazil, in the Amazon basin, on August 28, 2019. (Photo by Joao LAET / AFP) (Photo credit should read JOAO LAET/AFP/Getty Images)

He and his colleagues are beginning work with the Malaysian government to incorporate this into land use planning, and are undertaking a similar project with Liberian officials to calculate the cost of Lassa fever outbreaks there.

MacDonald sees value in this idea: “If we can conserve the environment, then perhaps we can also protect health,” he says. “That I think is the silver lining that we should keep in mind.”


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