As Climate Change Intensifies, So Does the Need for Veterinarians

By Calum Macpherson, Dean of the School of Graduate Studies and Director of Research at St. George's University
October 5, 2017

Diseases that spread from animals to humans are far more sensitive to changing climate patterns than animal- and human-only pathogens, according to a new report from researchers at the University of Liverpool.[1]

That means many of these diseases — referred to as zoonoses — will spread faster and farther in coming years. Veterinarians will play a crucial role in combatting these public health crises.

Zoonoses account for six in ten diseases, and nearly eight in ten emerging diseases.[2] The top 13 zoonotic diseases infect 2.4 billion people every year and kill 2.2 million annually.[3]

Climate change exacerbates these zoonoses.

For one, climate change causes heavier rainfalls and storm surges, producing flooding.[4] Standing water invites insects like mosquitoes that can spread dangerous diseases.[5]

A year after Hurricane Katrina, for instance, incidence rates of West Nile virus surged two-fold in affected areas of Louisiana and Mississippi, according to a study by researchers at Tulane University.[6] Another study of flooding caused by extreme rainfall in Uganda found that folks close to the river were 30 percent more likely to get malaria than those far away.[7]

Warmer temperatures also expose more people to zoonoses. For instance, two types of mosquitoes that carry malaria have been found at the US-Mexico border — an area previously too cold for them to survive.[8] In South America, unusually warm temperatures facilitated the 2015-2016 Zika outbreak, which left hundreds of thousands of people infected.[9]

Veterinarians are uniquely equipped to control these crises. They have the skills to investigate the sources of zoonotic diseases, develop prevention strategies, and work with physicians to create vaccines.[10]

Here at St. George’s University, we ensure our veterinary students have the tools to combat zoonotic diseases. We teach a One Health approach, which emphasizes the relationship between humans, animals, and their environments.[11] We also offer a dual degree in veterinary medicine and public health.[12]

Climate change will fuel zoonotic diseases in the years to come. Veterinarians will play an increasingly important role in keeping us safe.












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