Climate change may be a factor in the pandemic, according to a recent study published in the journal Science of the Total Environment.
The study examined the changes in bat habitats in Southern China and the nearby regions of Myanmar and Laos, where SARS-CoV-2 is thought to have originated.
Researchers found that warmer climates over the last century produced large forests where these mammals prefer to live, according to Fast Company. The study revealed that 40 bat species have moved into these areas, bringing with them 100 new types of coronaviruses, one of which is similar to the virus causing the pandemic.
“Climate change over the past century has made the habitat in the southern Chinese Yunnan province more suitable for bat species,” said Dr. Robert Beyer, the study’s lead author, from the Department of Zoology at the University of Cambridge.
Beyer added that the expansion of urban areas, farmland, and hunting grounds that have encroached into natural habitats has put humans and pathogen-carrying animals together and increased the risk of spreading zoonotic disease. He said that climate change has also forced more interspecies activity which heightens the risk of transmission.
According to Fast Company, more than 60% of emerging infections originate from animals, and bats are most likely to be a source. The Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) virus is thought to have originated in bats. Both SARS and SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, may have come from the bats living in the regions mapped out in the latest study.
Experts warn that the latest research does not bode well for the likelihood of future pandemics.
Dr. Michael Walsh, an infectious disease epidemiologist at The University of Sydney School of Public Health, says that 3 factors will determine where the next viral outbreak may occur. Areas where wildlife is disappearing and there is more contact between humans and animals is the first consideration. Places with substandard healthcare systems and those with many international airports round out the deadly trio.
Renowned primatologist and conservationist Jane Goodall, told PBS that she sees a direct line between the current coronavirus pandemic and humanity’s mistreatment of nature.
“We are all interconnected,” she said. “And if we don’t get that lesson from this pandemic, then maybe we never will. It’s mistreatment of animals and exactly where the next pandemic might come from, if we don’t pay attention to our behavior. I pray that we will this time take heed of the message that we’re being given, because this pandemic has been predicted for many, many, many years.”
Walsh says that societies “need to think about ways to minimize contact between wildlife and humans as much as possible, which means working with forest departments and other land management agencies to think about ways to reduce the sharing of space.”
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