Emerging Diseases Linked to Environmental Change

Emerging Diseases Linked to Environmental Change
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  • 0:07 Environmental Changes…
  • 1:11 Changes in Water
  • 2:21 Birds & Pigs
  • 3:43 The Human Factor
  • 5:19 Lesson Summary
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Instructor: Sarah Friedl

Sarah has two Master's, one in Zoology and one in GIS, a Bachelor's in Biology, and has taught college level Physical Science and Biology.

In this video lesson, you learn about why some diseases are increasing on Earth due to environmental changes. You'll also see examples of different types of diseases that are responding to environmental changes and how they are becoming more prevalent.

Environmental Changes and Disease

Modern medicine is amazing! Through research studies, experiments and decades of work, we have drastically reduced or even eliminated the occurrence of some dangerous human diseases. However, despite advances in technology and knowledge, some diseases are actually increasing on Earth. What's even more alarming is that this increase is due to environmental changes on Earth caused by human activities.

In another lesson, we learned that the temperature on Earth is increasing at an alarming rate. This increase in temperature is causing sea level rise, more frequent, extreme storms and weather conditions, changes in ecosystems and habitats and altered territories and migration routes of animals.

Many infectious diseases, or diseases transmitted between organisms, are spread to humans through things like animals, insects, bacteria and viruses, and the environmental changes on Earth are increasing the occurrence and spread of these diseases in humans. Let's take a look at some examples of how this happens.

Changes in Water

On Earth, we are increasing pools of water on a grand scale with dams, canals and irrigation for agriculture. These unnatural and extremely large pools of water provide ample breeding ground for mosquitoes, which carry diseases like malaria and West Nile virus. Rain also leaves behind smaller pools of water, and you may have noticed that a few days after a good thunderstorm, there seems to be a lot more mosquitoes buzzing around.

Just like with the larger, human-made pools, these smaller pools are great places for mosquitoes to breed. But, how does this tie into climate change? Well, climate change has been linked to an increase in precipitation in many places on Earth. So, as you can see, more rain means more pools of water, which also means more mosquitoes!

What happens when it rains too much? We get floods! Floods are excellent ways to transmit disease because many diseases are waterborne, or travel by water. Cholera, Giardia, E. coli, Salmonella, typhoid fever, hepatitis A and amoebas are just a few waterborne diseases that may be familiar to you and that spread easily through human contact with water.

Birds (and Pigs) Can Fly

You have probably heard about the bird flu. What started as a disease that only affected a small, remote part of the world, quickly spread across the globe, claiming human lives as it traveled. But, what does this have to do with environmental change? Birds have very specific territories and migration routes based on environmental conditions. As the climate on Earth changes, so do environmental cues that help lead birds to their summer and winter destinations.

Many bird migration patterns are now so altered that they coincide with other bird routes that they never would have come in contact with before. With this increased contact comes the increased risk of spreading disease, not just among birds, but also between other animals as well.

Pigs don't have migration routes, but the swine flu sure has gotten around! This disease is on the rise for two main reasons. First, as more and more forested land is cleared as pasture for animal production, more and more humans are living in close contact with these animals (such as pigs). This greatly increases their risk of contracting these zoonotic diseases, or diseases that jump from animals to humans. Second, we are traveling more and more, so not only are more people likely to be infected, but they are also getting on a plane or driving in their car, and those diseases act like little stowaways, traveling along with them.

The Human Factor

And finally, we have to take into account the growing human population. Sometimes we forget that there is a limited amount of space on Earth, but as more people are crowded into the same areas, the risk of disease transmission increases as well. It's like working in an office that keeps hiring more people but doesn't increase the number of offices available. You might end up sharing the same office with three or four people, and if one of those people comes in sick one day - well, good luck not catching whatever they bring in!

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