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Scientists Predict Global Warming Will Lead to Spread of Disease

Health experts meeting at an international conference this week in Spain predict global warming could lead to the spread of more than a dozen infectious diseases into new regions of the world. If not addressed, the experts say, the development could impact both human and animal health. VOA's Jessica Berman reports.

The Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS) issued a list it calls the Deadly Dozen, 12 wildlife diseases or pathogens the organization says could spread into new regions as a result of global warming.

The list includes cholera, the Ebola virus, plague, Rift Valley fever, sleeping sickness, tuberculosis and yellow fever. Some of the diseases only affect wildlife, some affect humans and some affect both.

Also on the Deadly Dozen list, the H5N1 avian flu strain, which scientists are monitoring to see whether it mutates into a lethal human pandemic. Experts are concerned that changes in climate influence migrations of wild birds, which then could infect domestic poultry over a wider area.

At a conference of the International Union for Conservation of Nature in Barcelona, the Wildlife Conservation Society's director of Global Health Programs, William Karesh, says, infectious diseases have the potential to spread with increasing temperatures and fluctuating precipitation, caused by global warming.

"Like some viruses do well in a moist environment, and they'll do better when it gets wetter in some places," said William Karesh. "Some organisms, like anthrax, survive drying very well. So, it changes the distribution of diseases. And, what we're concerned about is, we'll start to see diseases in places we didn't see them before."

Karesh says wild animals are very sensitive to changes in their environment, which is why his organization monitors their habitats for early clues that there might be danger.

"We want people to pay attention to something [that] could kill us, that are not so easy to see," he said. "But, it's very easy to check, if we look in the right place, and looking in the right place means monitoring the health of wildlife."

The Wildlife Conservation Society estimates that livestock and poultry diseases have lead to more than $100 billion in losses to the global economy since the mid-1990's.