Correlation between environment and diseases

by Mia Albasi, Beatrice Castelli, Teresa Covini, Giulioemanuele Girometta, Chiara Marcarini (3BS)

Progress is based on humans’ curiosity. The physicist Isaac Newton said “To go forward you have to leave something behind”,  meaning that in order to achieve progress, a cost has to be paid and if this is not considered it will cause problems in the long run. Just look at the invention of the internal combustion engine, created by Eugenio Barsanti in 1853; since the day humans created these revolutionary engines our lives have completely changed. But did we worry about the consequences we would have to face? No, and now we are paying for every mistake we made in the past.

Nowadays pollution is out of control: the increase of CO2 emissions has resulted in highly polluted air and rising temperatures, which in turn have led to melting glaciers and the expansion of the ozone hole. Moreover humans, always guided by their selfishness, have altered, and destroyed different habitats with deforestation and urbanisation.

Paradoxically, the damage we are causing to our planet is backfiring on us. But how? Some research regarding the spreading of diseases during the 20th and 21st centuries can help us understand. We have focused on three main epidemics.

Malaria is an infectious disease that shows fever caused by a parasite which invades the red blood cells of the host. It is transmitted to humans from mosquitos; therefore, it mainly affects tropical and subtropical regions. The first cases took place in South America.

Ebola is also an infectious and frequently fatal disease marked by fever and internal bleeding, spread through contact with infected body fluids. It is caused by a virus that can be transmitted from animals, such as monkeys and fruit-bats, to humans. The first cases were in Africa.

Thirdly, SARS is an infectious disease with symptoms such as fever and cough that can degenerate into pneumonia. It is caused by a coronavirus and is transmitted from civets and bats to humans. The first cases were recorded in China.

Given that they are all zoonotic diseases, we analysed the causes and, consulting scientists’ opinions, we realised that there is some correlation between epidemics and climate change; as a matter of fact, if there is a significant transformation in an environment (for instance, deforestation or rising temperatures), animals that are carriers of diseases can migrate and come in contact with humans. As a consequence, it’s more likely to have a species jump (the transfer of a pathogen, especially one considered species-specific, to a new host species) bringing to a new epidemic.

On the other hand, new diseases can also be caused by melting glaciers, that can contain pathogens that our immune system would not be able to fight, should we come into contact.

To sum up, we should think more about what could and most likely will happen in the future, and be less selfish in our choices, since in the very end our planet won’t be the only one to suffer, but also our health. The goal of this article is to bring awareness to what is happening these days and, with any luck, to take a step forward in learning from past mistakes.

Credits: BBC, Pub Med (US National Library of Medicine National Institute of Health), Earth Institute (Columbia University), The Conversation (Health and Medicine)



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