Monkeypox isn’t the disease we should be worried about
, says John Vidal in the Guardian:
It is no coincidence that since 1940, 335 new and potentially fatal diseases have emerged globally, over a period when the human population has trebled, the climate has changed and more meat is being eaten. Disease ecologists say that nothing increases the risk of a crossover of a pathogen from one species to another like the uncontrolled expansion of farming, and the exploitation by humans of wild species.
It is now payback time for nature. The more human numbers have grown and we have encroached on wild spaces or imposed unnatural conditions on other species, the more we have created the ideal environments for viruses and pathogens to spill across species, mutate and spread. HIV, Ebola, Lassa fever and monkey pox in Africa; Sars and Covid-19 in China; Chagas, Machupo and Hantavirus in Latin America; Hendra in Australia; Mers in Saudi Arabia – all have all emerged in the past 75 years just as we have accelerated deforestation, moved to cities, come closer to animals and created a global economy.
Most worrying for humans is not monkeypox, plague or even Ebola, which sound dangerous and exotic but are actually more or less controllable now with vaccines. Instead, the threat of a new bird flu, just as likely to come out of a farm in New York or England as one in China or Bolivia, now stalks humanity. Chicken is now the rich world’s most popular meat and tens of millions of near-genetically identical birds prone to catastrophic disease are being mass-reared at any one time, often in unhygienic conditions, and are able to mix with wild birds. It is only a matter of decades before a new highly pathogenic avian influenza strain evolves to be easily transmissible between humans.
Last winter was a bad one for bird flu in wild birds (many of them migratory), with mass mortality reported right across Europe, from UK to Israel.
Of course, climate change is exacerbating risks by changing distributions of host and reservoir species and thus creating novel combinations:
But we may have seen nothing yet. Climate change is now kicking in, creating a hotter, sicker world with a potentially catastrophic impact on disease. Global heating fundamentally changes the landscape of disease by forcing or enabling species to survive in new places and mix with others. Insects already kill about 700,000 people a year, but global heating allows mosquitoes, mites, fleas, ticks and other vectors to flourish in new areas, spreading dengue, chikungunya, and other diseases to higher ground or to previously cooler climates.