Environment

Pandemic World

Collide-a-ScapeBy Keith KloorMay 4, 2009 9:07 AM

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Mexico may still be in lockdown mode, but I suspect American fears of swine flu are ebbing. Alas, we may have only a short reprieve before pandemics starting hitting with regularity, warns epidemiologist Larry Brilliant in the WSJ weekend edition:

In our lifetimes, or our children's lifetimes, we will face a broad array of dangerous emerging 21st-century diseases, man-made or natural, brand-new or old, newly resistant to our current vaccines and antiviral drugs. You can bet on it.

Yeesh. Turns out we're headed for a perfect storm of viral contagion. Brilliant lists bioterror, climate change, overpopulation, and deforestation as threat multipliers. One big concern, he says, is that humans and wild animals (and their viruses) are living in increasingly tighter quarters, "because there is less rain forest, jungle and wild lands separating" us. This, he asserts, is exacerbated by global warming. For example, the loss of agricultural land from sea rise causes

farmers to cut down jungle, creating deforested areas which once served as barriers to the zoonotic viruses that each day have more opportunities to jump from bats and rodents and monkeys and civet cats to humans.

Did you catch that "each day" part? There's a a chance I might die "each day" too. Still, I get his point. Here's the rest of that climate change-viral hot house scenario Brilliant envisions:

As temperatures rise and seashores change, animals head inland and to higher ground, moving into heavily populated human areas. Soon there will be human climate refugees on the move into land once thought inhabitable. All of these changes increase the potential for humans and animals to exchange new viruses.

The bottom line, Brilliant says, is that the current swine flu scare is a mild harbinger of what lurks around the corner:

Indeed, we might be entering an Age of Pandemics.

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