Watch out for that mosquito

December 1, 2007 at 3:00 am Leave a comment

Kim photoIn all the stuff I’ve read on global warming and the havoc we’re wreaking on our planet, one thing has always stood out for me. As the planet heats up, exotic diseases or diseases that have been dormant in the darkest parts of the African or Amazonian jungles will burst forth. So I get alarmed when I read about increasing deforestation because forests and undergrowth are often the natural protection against diseases.

Whenever I go to Johannesburg to visit family, I arm myself with malarial prevention. Not that Johannesburg has malaria but just in case (yep, paranoid I know). But it seems that malaria is making a a comeback and is just one of the dire signs I think we need to be aware of. I was thinking of visiting South America, particularly Peru, but maybe not. For 40 years, Peru has been malaria-free but the mosquito-borne disease is making a dramatic comeback. 64,000 cases of malaria have been noted during 2007 alone.

Now, this is not because the world’s mosquito population has suddenly decided to hold its annual convention in Peru. Nope, it’s because of deforestation and climate change. Peru is not trying to eradicate malaria all over again; it’s just desperately trying to control the outbreak.

Off-season rain means that sunlit puddles of water are lying around and provide an ideal breeding ground for mosquito larvae. “The actual malaria problem of the Peruvian Amazon is caused by constant climate changes,” says biologist Carlos Pacheco. But as rainforests crash down due to logging and clearing, mosquitos are moving into new areas where they can feed on humans. The biting rate of mosquitoes in deforested areas is apparently nearly 300 times greater than in virgin forests. Because Peru has been free of malaria for decades, the population is ill-educated on malaria prevention and mosquito nets and medical treatment are not readily available. In an ironic twist, loggers are the main victims of malaria.

If you want to freak yourself out thinking about a future with infectious diseases brought about by climate change, here’s a brief run down:

  • plague due to increased rodent populations following heavy rainfalls likely to hit us
  • cholera and rodent-borne hantavirus
  • Murray Valley encephalitis and Ross River virus in Australia
  • meningitis epidemics
  • Guinea worm and Chagas’ disease
  • dengue or breakbone fever
  • yellow fever
  • Lyme disease

You get the idea. I remember reading a report a couple of years ago that had me freaked out by Dr Paul Epstein of the Centre for Health and Global Environment in Massachusetts, US. You can read highlights of his study here.

Source: Guardian Unlimited

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Entry filed under: Education and Awareness, Environment.

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