Climate change brings the specter of new infectious diseases

Climate change will bring major changes to the epidemiology of infectious diseases through changes in microbial and vector geographic range. Human defenses against microbial diseases rely on advanced immunity that includes innate and adaptive arms and endothermy, which creates a thermal restriction zone for many microbes. Given that microbes can adapt to higher temperatures, there is concern that global warming will select for microbes with higher heat tolerance that can defeat our endothermy defenses and bring new infectious disease.

Almost three decades ago, experts began to sound the alarm that climate change could be associated with changes to the epidemiology of infectious diseases (1, 2). Since then a large body of literature has accumulated on this subject focused primarily on how climate will affect locations of pathogenic microbes and vectors of infectious diseases. In this Viewpoint, I focus on another threat: the strong possibility that new, previously unknown infectious diseases will emerge from warmer climates as microbes adapt to higher global temperatures that can defeat our endothermy thermal barrier.


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