The beginning of summer paves the way for questions regarding the effect of the changing weather on the current COVID-19 pandemic. There is a major portion of the world’s population that believes warmer temperatures and the overall climate change can be helpful in controlling pathogens and epidemics. However, scientists have known for a very long time that warming climate can, in fact, have the opposite effect.
In the past few years, there has been a rise in vector-borne diseases in a way that the geographical presence of the pathogens has been expanding. This is primarily due to the adaption by animals and insects that play the mid role or are the hosts for the transmission of such disease.
Some of the most fundamental examples of such diseases are dengue fever and malaria, both of which were previously present in only specific parts and countries of the world but are now being diagnosed elsewhere as well.
The impact climate change could have on viral infections related to the respiratory system including H1N1 influenza and the novel coronavirus or COVID-19 is unclear among the scientific community.
So far, there has been a concern regarding how a warmer climate in the future can change the functioning of the virus and their interaction with their host animals or insects, thereby leading to them adapting with the climatic conditions. If this happens, the pathogens can potentially cause deadlier illnesses that can be harder to control.
For humans, adaption can take a longer period of time and changes in the climate can negatively affect the immune response. In such a scenario, the immune system would not have adapted to the warmer climate and would not be able to fight pathogens as it did before.
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Previously, adaption and changes in humans have created favorable conditions that hinder many pathogens from entering and surviving in the body. For instance, the normal body temperatures can keep many infections away as a number of pathogens cannot simply survive in temperatures that high.
The chair of molecular microbiology and immunology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, Arturo Casadevall, explains “A lot of organisms in the environment cannot survive [at] 37 degrees” Celsius, the standard for normal human body temperature.” He further adds “So our temperature is almost like a thermal barrier that protects us against many organisms.”
However, higher temperatures that come with climate change will favor pathogens rather than humans. In a paper published in the mBIO, Casadevall with his colleagues examined a drug-resistant fungus—Candida Auris.
The fungus was found in a case for the first time in the year 2009. Ever since then, various cases have been diagnosed in different parts of the world. The predominant denominator for the spread of this fungus amongst all cases was a rise in temperatures worldwide.
The paper concluded that the Candida Auris fungus may be the first example of pathogens adapting to the change in climate and infecting humans. However, it is argued that the fungus is able to replicate without a host. Viruses such as COVID-19 cannot do so.
The COVID-19 virus is till now thought to come from bats to humans through an intermediate host in between. Humans and bats are both warm-blooded and therefore the transmission is possible but what happens when cold-blooded animals adapt to the rising temperatures.
If cold-blooded hosts of viruses and other pathogens are able to adapt to climate change, the virus themselves can too adapt and cause a higher number of infections which are also possibly deadlier.
This makes room for more concern regarding climate change around the world as it can make the world a difficult place to live in, in multiple ways,