The outbreak of Zika virus in Central and South America is of immediate concern to pregnant women in the region, but for some experts the situation is a glimpse of the sort of public health threats that will unfold due to climate change.
“Zika is the kind of thing we’ve been ranting about for 20 years,” said Daniel Brooks, a biologist at University of Nebraska-Lincoln. “We should’ve anticipated it. Whenever the planet has faced a major climate change event, man-made or not, species have moved around and their pathogens have come into contact with species with no resistance.”
It’s still not clear what role rising temperatures and altered rainfall patterns have had on the spread of Zika, which is mainly spread by mosquitos; the increased global movement of people is probably as great an influence as climate change for the spread of infectious diseases. But the World Health Organization, which declared a public health emergency over the birth defects linked to Zika, is clear that changes in climate mean a redrawn landscape for vector and water-borne diseases.