Meet The New Neighbors: Four Tropical Viruses That Could Make A Big Splash In North America Thanks To Climate Change
Some people are never satisfied.
Count among them virologists and epidemiologists. Even as The Zika panic cools off along with the weather in the northern hemisphere, these party poopers are on the lookout for new, potentially devastating diseases that could make the leap to the next level and show up in your Sunday paper–and possibly in your bloodstream–sometime very soon.
Here are four bugs virologists say are waiting in the wings for a chance to move up from understudy to a leading role.
• Mayaro – Mayaro is not only a lovely bay in Trinidad, it is a mosquito-borne virus that causes dengue fever-like symptoms lasting three to five days. It shares similarities with chikungunya: it can bring fever, chills, rash and the joint pain that can last more than a year. Another similarity, and a frightening one, is that mayaro was once carried only by rain forest mosquitoes, but has since adapted to be carried by urban mosquitoes like the Aedes aegytpi that carries Zika, and which GMO companies are so eager to modify in an attempt to engineer an end to Zika.
• Rift Valley Fever – This infection means chills and, yes, fever for most. But sometimes it progresses to hemorrhagic disease, with abnormal bleeding and brain swelling. In those cases it leads to death half the time, and there is no treatment. In 2000 it was first spotted in the Arabian peninsula, the first time it has been found outside of Africa. Since, there have been tens of thousands of human infections and millions of livestock deaths. The rate at which the hemorrhagic version occurs has risen ten-fold. And since over 30 species of mosquitoes can carry it, containment is a concern, to say the least.
• Crimean-Congo Hemorrhagic Fever – The only good thing about this killer is that it is tick-borne, not mosquito-borne, which makes it slower to spread. Still, it kills 40 percent of those who are infected, and it is quite the world traveller: since it was first identified in 1944 it has leapt the bounds of Africa and made it as far as China. With climate change altering the range of various insects like ticks, there’s no telling how far it might go.
• Usutu – Virologists in Europe report that following a very warm summer there, they are facing a massive bird die-off in France, Belgium and Hungary. This disease is similar to West Nile, with the attendant headaches, fevers, and neurological problems. For now serious symptoms are limited to people with compromised immune systems. The warning remains serious though: because it is an avian virus it can easily circulate all over the world.
Of course, if the Zika panic taught us anything, it should be that science often makes the wrong call prematurely due to political and public pressure. There still isn’t a proven link between Zika and microcephaly, after all, and the mainstream press refuses to examine claims by several respected doctors’ organizations that heavy pesticide spraying in the areas so affected might be linked, because that would be politically and economically inconvenient.
However, with climate change pushing warmer weather ever-northward, we are certain to see changes in the range of viruses as well as insects, which could very well affect our health.